Judge Partially Grants MTD in Age Discrimination Case Against Collection Law Firm

A District Court judge in Ohio has dismissed three of the four counts requested by a collection law firm being sued by a former employee who is accusing the firm of age discrimination and other claims, while also setting a date for a jury trial to begin in May on the remaining counts.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Merhulik v. Weltman Weinberg & Reis can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff was employed by the defendant for seven yers before being laid off as part of a company downsizing in 2016. She began at the firm as a legal collector and was promoted quality assurance specialist midway through her tenure at the company. She was 59 years old when she was laid off, and claims that she was not offered lesser collector positions when she was laid off. The plaintiff claims that the defendant used the age of employees as one of the criteria to rank employees when determining which ones to lay off.

Two years ago, the plaintiff applied for a job opening as a collections specialist at the defendant, but was not contacted for an interview. The plaintiff accused the defendant of wording its job listings to “intentionally seek out” younger individuals by asking “are you looking to start your career in the legal field.” The plaintiff also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, whose investigation was closed with the issuance of a right to sue letter to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff listed seven counts in her complaint, filed in the District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Among them are: disparate treatment age discrimination, unlawful use of hiring criteria, and unlawful retaliation. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss four of the seven counts, namely unlawful use of hiring criteria, unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII, age discrimination, and age discrimination (disparate impact).

Judge Donald Nugent granted the motion to dismiss on the unlawful use of hiring criteria, unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII, and age discrimination (disparate impact), but denied the motion to dismiss on the age discrimination claim.

The defendant argued that by filing the complaint with the EEOC, the plaintiff elected to pursue an administrative strategy and should be precluded from filing a discrimination claim, under what is known as the election of remedies doctrine. However, Judge Nugent pointed out that the state law being used by the plaintiff in her complaint is not subject to the election of remedies, referencing a ruling from the state Supreme Court on the issue, and denied the motion to dismiss that count.

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