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What Can I Do if My New Jersey Employer’s Downsizing Really Looks More Like a Purge of Older Employees?

Layoffs… downsizing… reductions in force. All of these words and phrases are prone to bringing anxiety and uncertainty into the lives of workers. Any downsizing can be stressful and scary – and that’s especially true for older workers, as an unplanned job loss may leave them struggling to find a new position quickly that pays what the worker is really worth.

Sometimes, an employer’s reduction in force is more than just an effort to reduce overhead; it’s an attempt to purge older workers from the company’s payroll. When an employer in New Jersey uses a reduction in force to engage in illegal age discrimination, you may have options through the legal system to provide you with compensation for your losses. To find out more, be sure that you speak to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney about the specifics of your situation.

Take, for example, the recent case of C.S., an employee of a company “in the business of moving sensitive data securely between trading partners using encryption software.” In 2012, the company hired a large number of employees in order “enter the electronic medical records market.” Among those new hires was C.S., who was 60 when hired and held the position of Vice President.

After the attempted expansion, the company experienced severe financial struggles. The company responded to the troubles by engaging in a reduction in force. C.S. was one of the employees downsized.

C.S. sued, alleging age discrimination. The trial judge granted summary judgment to the employer, which prevented C.S. from brining his case to trial. The trial judge determined that the vice president failed to offer enough evidence to create what the law calls a “prima facie case” of age discrimination.

The “prima facie case” is the first in a three-step process in discrimination litigation. At the outset, a discriminated employee in New Jersey must offer enough proof to create a viable argument that he was targeted for an adverse employment action –such as demotion, pay cut or termination (among others) — based upon his membership in a protected group — such as age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity (among others.)

The employee had enough proof to establish a ‘prima facie’ case of age discrimination

The appeals court in C.S.’s case concluded that the trial judge was wrong in deciding that the vice president’s evidence did not amount to a prima facie case. C.S.’s proof showed that he was (1) 62 years old when downsized, (2) that he performed his duties adequately well, (3) that he was terminated and (4) that his duties were reassigned to other employees all of whom were younger and outside C.S.’s protected (age) class.

Once you establish a “prima facie case” of discrimination, then the law shifts the burden to the employer to give the court a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer does this, then the third step gives the employee the opportunity to prove that the employer’s stated reason was really just a pretext for discrimination.

In C.S.’s case, the employer really did have a valid reason – it had hired C.S. in order to gain new clients in the electronic medical records area. When those clients did not materialize and the company experienced profit shortcomings, eliminating a vice president in a department that was not generating the new business the employer anticipated was a legitimate choice.

In many circumstances, though, the employer won’t have a reason for its action or, at least, it won’t have a legitimate one. When that occurs, then the law says that you are entitled to a judgment in your favor in your discrimination case.

When you’ve been laid off or downsized and it appears that you were targeted due to your age, you may have a potentially winning age discrimination case. Reach out to the knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates to learn more about your legal options. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how our knowledgeable attorneys can get to work for you.

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