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County denies claims of age discrimination despite settlements

While continuing to deny that it engaged in age discrimination during a relatively recent layoff, it has come to light that the government of Mesa County, Colorado, settled two claims filed by former employees. Both former employees had also alleged age discrimination, as they, too, were fired in connection with the same layoff.

The county apparently paid the two former employees, who are married to each other, $62,500 each in order to resolve the claims that they filed with Colorado's Civil Rights Commission. The Commission ultimately ruled that the pair had grounds to pursue their discrimination claims.

The two had worked in the county's IT Department until 2016, when staffing cuts led to their being laid off. The couple alleged that the layoff targeted older workers, as three of those workers who were cut were in their 40s or 50s at the time. The couple further alleged that the layoffs were not based on overall job performance or on their special skill sets.

News of this earlier settlement came to light as part of a former colleague's pending lawsuit. Like the pair who settled their claims, the colleague was let go during the 2016 layoffs. She was 57 years old at the time. Unlike her former colleagues, she elected to continue with her claim in federal court rather than settle the matter at an earlier date.

As this case illustrates, while public employers, like those in private enterprise, have a right to make staffing cuts, they must do so in a way that does not run afoul of state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination. Specifically, they may not use a layoff to weed out older employees in order to make room for younger employees. Employees who are victims of such behavior may have legal options available to them.

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