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Fired engineer alleges age bias against Ford

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Just days after one laid-off engineer sued Ford Motor Co. for age discrimination, another has filed an age discrimination complaint against the company with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The complaint was filed Thursday on behalf of Larry Paga, a 52-year-old material handling engineer from Brighton who was one of thousands of white-collar workers laid off in January. The cuts are part of Ford's plan to make its North American operations profitable.

Like all workers terminated, Paga was given a list of all the employees who were being laid off in his department, broken down by age and job classification. Because Paga was the only person in his department to get the ax, his attorneys say that list did not yield enough information to determine whether the company was discriminating against their client because of his age.

"What we're trying to do is get them to provide that information," said John Hergt, an attorney with the law firm of Huizenga & Hergt in Detroit, who said courts have ruled that departmental reports like the one issued by Ford are not enough.

"When it's a companywide layoff," he said, "the reports should also be companywide."

Hergt is also challenging the waivers Ford required terminated employees to sign in exchange for richer severance packages. Employees who signed such waivers cannot sue Ford for discrimination. Hergt accused Ford of forcing people to make a decision without enough information.

But some legal experts say Hergt will have a hard time invalidating those waivers -- particularly since Ford gave employees 45 days to decide whether to sign them and gave them a week to change their mind once they did.

"I'd say he has a pretty uphill challenge," said Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander, an associate professor of employment law at the University of Georgia. "The law doesn't protect you from being unwise."

A separate age discrimination suit was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court Monday by a terminated engineer.

Ford said it has not seen the complaint but stands by its actions.

"We understand that these separations were difficult for everyone affected. (But) the company adhered to the law in making these difficult decisions," said Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans.
 
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