As working Baby Boomers get older, age discrimination can threaten their incomes and livelihoods. When more than one organization oversees their working conditions, victims of ageism in the workplace can seek compensation from all of them under a “joint employer” theory, according to a recent decision from a Michigan federal court.


Understanding Joint Employer Liability

Joint employer liability can occur when two or more companies govern essential terms and conditions of an employee’s employment. These terms and conditions may include, among other factors, the ability to hire, fire, and discipline, determine compensation and benefits, and direct and supervise the employee.

For plaintiffs who bring such lawsuits, proving the liability of one employer can establish shared liability among all joint employers, which can result in a greater amount of damages than single-employer lawsuits.

Several successful joint employer cases have shed light on wage and overtime violations and other issues, but a recent ruling in an employment law case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan alleged that three joint employers were liable for engaging in age discrimination against their shared employees.

Age Discrimination in the Automobile Industry

In Bolin v. General Motors, the plaintiffs were three men who began working for General Motors in the 1970s. After years in the automotive plants, the men were promoted to “special assignments” within the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources (CHR). According to the complaint, the three organizations – UAW, CHR, and GM – were responsible for the plaintiffs’ working conditions; UAW and CHR managed instruction, supervision, evaluation, and assignments, GM administered salary and benefits, and CHR oversaw the employees’ daily work tasks.

In 2015, a UAW-GM vice president who also served on CHR’s executive committee met with employees over the age of 40, informed them that their “special assignments” were being terminated, and advised that they could either return to their prior plants or retire. The plaintiffs returned to the plants and saw a salary drop of 50 percent, and their working conditions and hours also negatively impacted. Lastly, the plaintiffs’ former CHR positions were filled by younger employees with significantly less experience and training.

The plaintiffs later filed suit, alleging that the joint employers were liable for age discrimination. CHR moved to dismiss the claims against it, arguing that it was not responsible for demoting the plaintiffs, and that the CHR executive was acting within her UAW-GM role when she demoted the plaintiffs and other employees. The court denied the motion, finding that she was still an executive within CHR, and thus, CHR had reason to know of the discrimination. Additionally, CHR was responsible for the day-to-day tasks of the plaintiffs and could have taken “corrective measures” to counter the age discrimination practices. The plaintiffs were permitted to pursue their claims against all three organizations under a joint employer liability theory.

Impact on Joint Employers and Shared Employees

Though the denial of CHR’s motion to dismiss didn’t result in an immediate victory for the plaintiffs, the procedural decision in the Bolin case is an overall win for shared employees who encounter unlawful workplace employment policies. The decision is not only a warning for joint employers about diligently monitoring for age discrimination (and other forms of discrimination) against shared employees, but it also sends the message that a joint employer cannot feign ignorance of a co-employer’s negligence or misconduct.

Are You a Victim of Workplace Discrimination, Retaliation, or Wrongful Termination?

If you believe an employer or joint employers have unlawfully discriminated or retaliated against you, or wrongfully discharged you from your job, you need to take a stand. Please contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Employment Litigation Group today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your right to compensation.

Tad T. Roumayah

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Tad T. Roumayah

Tad Roumayah focuses his practice primarily on employment litigation, representing employees who have encountered discrimination, retaliation, wrongful discharge, whistleblower protection claims, wage and hour violations and other employment issues and disputes.