Man Fired for ‘Performance Issues’ After Being Told He Was ‘Too Old’ to Do His Job by HR Director
Company claimed staffer was insubordinate
Unfortunately, what happened to Addiel Soto-Feliciano is not uncommon. You may have even seen this yourself: An older staffer who worked his or her way up through the ranks is suddenly fired for rule infractions or performance issues.
Then you have to wonder, did the older employee suddenly drop the ball on his or her work? Or did the company need a way to bring in some new – and younger – blood?
Let’s take a look at how this can play out and what the court has to say about it.
Laundry List of Infractions
Addiel Soto-Feliciano worked his way up to the position of head chef at the beachfront resort Villa Cofresi Hotel.
However, he only lasted a few months in that role before being fired.
According to his supervisor, Soto-Feliciano’s behavior had become unacceptable and unprofessional. For example, Soto-Feliciano supposedly used profanity frequently enough that coworkers and even customers complained about it. He allegedly displayed a bad attitude, was often late, was rude to a supervisor, and disparaged a fellow employee’s religion.
When he received a suspension letter ahead of being fired, two supposed incidents of insubordination were cited.
‘Too Old and Too Slow’
However, Soto-Feliciano’s side of the story was very different. While he admitted that he’d had some performance issues here and there, a conversation he’d had with the HR director weighed on his mind.
In that meeting, the head of HR told Soto-Feliciano that he was going to be replaced because he was too old and too slow to work on the cooking line. In fact, Soto-Feliciano’s direct supervisor had also often commented about his age and lack of speed.
Soto-Feliciano contacted a lawyer and sued the company for age discrimination. The lawsuit contended that the company failed to follow its own policy of progressive discipline in regard to the two incidents of insubordination. That is, the company should’ve provided verbal warnings and taken other steps before suspending the staffer.
Soto-Feliciano’s attorney also argued that the proximity of the conversation with HR was suspiciously close to the time that he was fired.
The company countered that it had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Soto-Feliciano, i.e., performance issues and insubordination. It attempted to get the case thrown out.
But the court refused to dismiss the case. It ruled that the timing between Soto-Feliciano’s termination and the conversation about his age was suspicious. It found that the company may have cooked up reasons to terminate Soto-Feliciano in order to hire a younger replacement.
Now the company will have to defend its actions in front a jury.
(The case discussed here is Soto-Feliciano v. Villa Cofresi Hotels, Inc.)
What It Means to You
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects people age 40 or older from being treated unfairly at work due to age. If you or someone you know has been driven out of a job due to age discrimination, it’s best to speak to an attorney.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.