Age Discrimination

Judge Approves $4.1 Million Settlement Of Age Bias Claims of Lennox Sales Staff

St. Paul, Minn.-A federal judge in Minneapolis signed a consent decree May 8 that requires Lennox Industries Inc. to pay more than $4.1 million to 11 former sales managers who had alleged the company discriminated against them on the basis of their age (Foster v. Lennox Industries Inc., D.Minn., No. CIV 4-96-1083, 5/8/98).

The settlement also requires Lennox to pay slightly more than $2 million in attorneys' fees, according to Lloyd B. Zimmerman, senior trial attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC will receive slightly more than $10,000 under the agreement. The commission received permission to intervene in the lawsuit last year.

According to court documents, Lennox terminated more than one-third of its district sales managers in 1992 and 1993. Each of the managers terminated was over the age of 40.

In a statement, the EEOC said that it had obtained evidence from a Lennox executive stating that the company wanted to have half its workforce under the age of 40.It also stated that one plaintiff, James R. Foster of Minnesota, was fired five months after being recognized as one of the top sales managers in the country. He was 52 at the time of his dismissal.

The consent decree requires Lennox to be monitored by the EEOC for the next 42 months and to change its personnel practices. Among the changes required are a new internal review process to assure age bias does not occur, annual training for managers, annual EEOC audits, and an annual EEOC review of company human resource records.

Lennox is also required to report to the EEOC any termination of sales managers, and is required to enhance its preservation of documents. It will also be required to improve its responses to age discrimination claims.

In its prepared statement, Lennox stated that its personnel policies strictly forbid age discrimination. It stated that the realignment of its sales districts in 1992 and 1993 resulted in some workforce reductions, but the average age of sales managers remained at 49. Layoffs of workers over the age of 40 were inevitable, it stated, because the majority of district sales managers in the layoff group were over 40.

The company also aid it did not admit any liability or wrong doing under the settlement.