A Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) is alleged to have stated that a
younger nurse could "dance around the older nurses." Not
hard to imagine that such a statement would raise the hackles of
many nurses over age 40, but do comments like that mean that the
hospital discriminated against one or more nurses on the basis of
their age when the nurses were discharged or resigned? That is the
question facing Montrose Memorial Hospital after the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed an age
discrimination lawsuit against the Western Slope hospital last
EEOC Cites Numerous Age-Related Comments
In its complaint, the EEOC alleges that Montrose Memorial
Hospital's CNO, Joan Napolilli, made various age-biased
statements to charging party Katherine Casias and other nurses.
Casias began work for the hospital in 1985 as a licensed practical
nurse but then earned her degree cum laude as a registered
nurse (RN). The alleged comments attributed to Napolilli
a younger RN could "dance around
the older nurses;"
younger nurses are "easier to
train" and "cheaper to employ;"
Casias was not "fresh
enough" and was chastised for not smiling or saying hello
referring to Casias as an "old
older workers at the hospital were
"a bunch of monkeys" and she'd "like to fill the
hospital with new nurses and get rid of all the old ones;"
telling a nurse supervisor to
"work that old grey-haired bitch into the ground" and to
work her "long and hard until she quit or got
The complaint also alleges that Nurse Manager Susan Smith told
an RN that "you're getting too old for this job."
If proven to have actually been said, comments expressing an
aversion to workers over 40 and a preference for younger workers
can be direct evidence of age discrimination under the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
Leniency Toward Younger Nurses
Casias's long-term employment record appears to have been
stellar. The complaint states that she had never received a
below-average performance evaluation or any formal discipline in
her 27 years at the hospital. She also was appointed to numerous
positions such as Trauma Coordinator, Sexual Assault Task Force
member, and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
The hospital apparently points to alleged policy violations and
performance deficiencies to support its termination decisions of
Casias and other older nurses. The EEOC, however, alleges that
younger nurses engaged in similar or even more egregious conduct
than Casias and the other older nurses, without the younger nurses
being discharged or disciplined. According to the complaint, the
hospital documented nearly one hundred patient complaints and
additional co-worker complaints about rude or unprofessional
conduct by nurses during an almost four-year period between 2010
and 2014. Yet during that same period, the hospital allegedly did
not terminate any employee under the age of 40 for rude or
Avoiding the EEOC's Wrath
The EEOC's lawsuit has just begun and none of the
allegations have been proven yet so we don't know if age
discrimination actually occurred at the hospital. This lawsuit
speaks to the EEOC's ongoing efforts to address claims that
protect workers in collective actions. These lawsuits allow the
EEOC to affirmatively gain notoriety by issuing press releases. https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-9-16a.cfm.
Such claims also vindicate the public purpose of the agency and
promote the rights secured to employees by federal law. It is hard
to fashion an argument that the EEOC oversteps its bounds by
bringing these collective actions, but employers should be very
concerned about the high risk associated with class-based
If you'd rather not find yourself in the hospital's
position defending a lawsuit in federal court, be proactive about
avoiding age discrimination in your employment decisions. Make sure
you review how you've treated other employees, especially
younger workers, for similar misconduct before disciplining or
firing employees over age 40. And train your supervisors and
managers not to make age-related comments for any reason. Focus on
the employees' job performance, not their age, and you'll
have a better chance of avoiding the EEOC's scrutiny.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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