A 60-year-old former supervisor at a Volkswagen manufacturing facility in Tennessee has filed a collective-action against the automaker. The federal lawsuit claims that Volkswagen AG and two of its U.S. subsidiaries “are engaged in a company-wide policy of age discrimination against employees 50 years and older.” The plaintiff is suing on behalf of himself and other affected employees nationwide.
Volkswagen seeks a ‘younger’ image after Dieselgate
The issue arose in the wake of Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal, according to the plaintiff’s attorney. The scandal involved allegations that the company intentionally cheated U.S. emissions tests on diesel vehicles by programming them to detect when they were being tested and produce inaccurately positive test results.
Dieselgate was devastating to Volkswagen’s worldwide reputation. In November 2016, in an apparent effort to repair its reputation or at least to distract from the scandal, the company announced a rebranding campaign called “TRANSFORM 2025+.”
In June 2017, Volkswagen AG issued a press release announcing that “We are expecting our management levels to become younger and slimmer.” It went on to say, “We are becoming slimmer, leaner and younger. This will make Volkswagen faster and more efficient at the same time as providing new motivation for junior managers.”
At the same time, it announced its “Pact for the Future” initiative which, as part of TRANSFORM 2025+, would eliminate 30,000 jobs globally. According to the plaintiff’s attorney, the policy is actually to swap out older VW workers with much younger ones. He contends that the company plan to shed approximately 7,000 jobs in North and South America through an early retirement scheme it referred to as “natural fluctuations.”
Most of the jobs on the chopping block seem to be held by workers 50 and older. In fact, three days after issuing the “Pact for the Future” press release, the plaintiff was demoted and transferred to a position in another department. He was told that his demotion “was in recognition of his hard work.”
He was given a year to find a new position in the company or his demotion would become permanent. Since then, the plaintiff has applied for a number of other positions in the company but, he claims, “VW management has prevented him from securing them.”
Injunction sought to prevent further age discrimination
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects U.S. employees aged 40 and older from age-based discrimination in hiring, promotion, job assignments, discharge, compensation, or any other aspect of the job or in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. It is also illegal to harass employees because of their ages and to retaliate against employees who stand up for their rights under the ADEA.
Is it illegal to swap out older workers for younger ones in pursuit of a “younger image”? While the case is still before the courts, the desire for a particular image has been found to be no excuse for discrimination in other employment law cases. Volkswagen’s professed intention to create a “younger” image is strong evidence of an intention to discriminate against people over 40.
The plaintiff, according to his attorney, “is a talented American auto worker who simply wants to continue performing the work at VW he is most capable of doing at a salary commensurate with his considerable training, skills, and experience.”
He is seeking an injunction on behalf of himself and similarly situated workers that would restore him to his former title and responsibilities and prevent Volkswagen from discriminating against any other workers over 50.