A court decision out of Illinois involved a slew of age-discriminatory comments from co-workers.
Several co-workers called Jeffrey Kawczynski the “apprentisaurus” and one wrote the epithet on his work helmet, Kawczynski said. Others referred to him as “old man” and “old Jeff,” and even used crude, demeaning comments like “dog nuts” and “pig pen.” And one supervisor asked him his age.
Kawczynski claimed to be tortured to the point of depression by this treatment, and stopped work as a result. But the comments were not enough for him to survive summary judgment on his age discrimination and hostile work environment claim against F.E. Moran, Inc., his employer.
Why not? Let us be good students and count the ways, which help explain why every unpleasant work experience does not rise to the level of a viable lawsuit.
First, most of the comments were by co-workers and not supervisors, and stopped years before his employment ended.
Second, he never reported the comments to his union representatives or company human resources, and admits that the comments did not affect his work and eventually stopped.
Third, the supervisor who asked about his age was not a decision-maker at the time his termination ended.
Fourth, Kawczynski admittedly chose not to return to work in 2013 – he was not fired, even if he anticipated termination coming at some point in the future. As such, he did not suffer an adverse employment action.
Fifth, and finally, many of the hostile comments did not suggest animus against him based on age – “pig pen” and “dog nuts” certainly are not desirable nicknames, but they also are not ageist.
So . . . before panicking about the next claim of outrageous language at work, think about the lessons from “Apprentisaurus,” break down the details alleged, and don’t go “dog nuts.”
Michael Homans is a Labor & Employment attorney and founding partner of HomansPeck LLC. For more employment law updates, including news and links to important information pertaining to legal developments that may affect your business, subscribe to Michael’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @EmployLawUpdate.