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Old 04-13-2003, 22:32   #1 (permalink)
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New bias lawsuit hits Ford, Visteon

Monday, April 14, 2003

Older workers without college degrees claim they get passed up for promotions

By Mark Truby / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- Ford Motor Co. and auto parts maker Visteon Corp. are being sued again for age discrimination, this time by employees who claim they have been blocked from promotions because of educational requirements.

The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, was filed Friday in Wayne County Circuit Court on behalf of two longtime Visteon plant supervisors.

In the past 18 months, Ford and Visteon have settled separate class-action age discrimination lawsuits brought by white-collar employees.

The legal disputes highlight an increased focus on bias in the workplace as the nation's work force grows older. As baby boomers enter their golden years, age discrimination claims are on the rise, according to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

The latest suit claims that Ford and Visteon -- which was part of Ford until 2000 -- categorize employees without college degrees as "unpromotable."

Royal Oak lawyer Michael Pitt, who filed the suit, said the practice is unfair to older workers, particularly those in the manufacturing field, who often began their careers when college degrees were not traditionally required.

"This is part of a corporate culture of discrimination against older workers," Pitt said.

Ford said the claims are unfounded. Company spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said the automaker does not designate employees without college degrees as unpromotable.

"That's absolutely false," Vokes said. "Every employee is looked at individually, based on their accomplishments, their leadership ability and their ability to work as part of a team."

Visteon spokeswoman Tammera Hallums said the company had not reviewed the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

"I can tell you that Visteon has very stringent policies against discrimination," Hallums said.

Vokes added that Ford offers to pay tuition for employees who want to go to school to help advance their career.

"All employees are encouraged to keep skills current through various company-supported training and education programs," she said.

The two named plaintiffs -- Ivory Jackson, 58, and Dennis Spaulding, 50, are supervisors at Visteon's Monroe stamping plant. Both men earn more than $100,000 a year, in addition to fringe benefits.

The two began their careers in 1970 as hourly line workers before being promoted into management. Their advancement stopped in the mid- to late-1990s, when they claim Ford and Visteon began blocking promotions for salaried employees without college degrees.

Jackson is an operations manager who said he has repeatedly sought and been denied a promotion to area manager, a position one step below plant manager.

"They have told me I am unpromotable because I don't have a college degree," Jackson said. "But when the plant is in trouble, they turn to me because I can do the job."

Jackson supervises 1,000 employees and oversees an entire night shift at the Monroe plant, a job he said would normally be done by a higher-ranking manager.

Jackson and Spaulding, a manufacturing superintendent, say they have watched as less competent people who have college degrees have been promoted ahead of them.

"They looked at me as a blocker," Spaulding said. "That's someone who can't go to the next level. We have been called dinosaurs. I don't feel like a dinosaur. I'm 50 years old. That's a young man still."

Spaulding said he sits on a personnel development committee where he has seen competent employees cut out of opportunities for promotions because of a lack of a college degree.

"There is a lot of people out there who can more than do the job," he said. "Yet they are not looked at because of the education."

The case -- like many age bias claims -- could come down to a statistical analysis. Pitt said he plans to seek data from Ford and Visteon that he believes will show that older employees without college degrees have been disproportionately overlooked for promotions.

Late last year, Visteon Corp. settled with 12 former managers who claimed it discriminated against older workers when it laid off hundreds of employees in 2001. A plaintiffs' analysis of the job cuts at Visteon showed that workers age 56 or older were five times as likely to be laid off as employees younger than 40.

As part of the settlement, both sides agreed not to disclose the amounts involved, and Visteon did not admit fault.

In late 2001, Ford agreed to pay $10.5 million to settle two well-publicized class-action discrimination lawsuits brought by company middle managers. The suits claimed an employee ranking system, which has since been scrapped, was used by Ford to weed out older workers.
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