Court Rules That AT&T’s Release Agreement Violates Federal Age Discrimination Law
In an opinion that has vast significance for the legal rights of older workers in the United States, Judge Timothy Rice granted partial summary judgment in favor of a former AT&T employee, Alison Ray, who had signed a release and then sued AT&T in Philadelphia federal court for age discrimination. The Court ruled that AT&T’s release violated federal age discrimination law and was therefore not a defense to the lawsuit.
The Court concluded in Ray v. AT&T Mobility Services, LLC, No. 2:18-cv-03303-TR, Dkt. No. 28 (E.D.Pa. Jan. 11, 2019), that AT&T violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) when it issued older workers a release agreement which failed to comply with the strict informational requirements of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (“OWBPA”). AT&T’s omissions, according to Judge Rice, prevented employees from seeing if there was evidence suggesting age bias. In particular, Judge Rice held: “Congress intended the OWBPA’s disclosure requirements to arm employees with enough information to make an informed decision whether to release any potential ADEA claims against an employer . . . AT&T’s disclosure did not serve that goal.”
Stephen G. Console, of Console Mattiacci Law in Philadelphia which represents Ms. Ray, stated: “This decision calls into question the legality of any similar release used by AT&T in the past in a group lay-off because those releases may have misled workers over the age of 40 into thinking they could not sign the release, get (and keep) severance and then bring an age discrimination claim under federal law when, in fact, they can.”
AARP submitted a brief supporting Ms. Ray’s position in this case, telling the Court: “Holding that OWBPA disclosures like AT&T’s comply with the statute would allow employers to circumvent the OWBPA’s ‘strict, unqualified statutory stricture’, intended to protect older workers, by deceptively manipulating the information the statute commands it to provide.”
Under the OWBPA, which was passed in 1990 and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, companies involved in group layoffs (often called reductions-in-force or reorganizations) must provide workers over the age of 40 with age data to compare those terminated and those retained if the company wants to get a valid release of claims under the federal age discrimination law, specifically the ADEA. If the release does not do this, the Supreme Court ruled in Oubre v. Entergy Operations, Inc., 522 U.S. 422 (1998), that the older workers get to keep the severance they were paid and still be able to sue the company for age discrimination under the ADEA.
AT&T has had numerous group lay-off plans over the past years. This ruling calls into question whether those terminated workers can still bring lawsuits for age discrimination despite signing a release agreement drafted by AT&T which said they cannot.
Alison Ray is represented by Susan M. Saint-Antoine, Brian C. Farrell, and Daniel S. Orlow of Console Mattiacci Law, LLC. AT&T is represented by Kenneth W. Gage and Alex J. Maturi of Paul Hastings, LLP.
About Console Mattiacci Law, LLC
Console Mattiacci Law, LLC is an employment rights law firm with offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Moorestown, New Jersey. Since its inception in 1990, the firm has focused its practice on the representation of current, former and potential employees concerning work-related matters. The lawyers at Console Mattiacci Law, LLC counsel whistleblower-employees who have been retaliated against and individuals who have been victimized by illegal employment discrimination and retaliation, including sex, race, religion, disability and age discrimination and sexual harassment at work. They also represent employees concerning medical leaves, disability benefits, wage and hour claims, employment contracts, severance agreements, stock option plans, and class action lawsuits. For more information visit: www.consolelaw.com or call Console Mattiacci Law, LLC at 215-545-7676.