Attorneys from Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP on Friday filed a collective action complaint against Volkswagen AG and two of its U.S. subsidiaries in Federal Court in Chattanooga. It alleges Volkswagen AG, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., and Volkswagen Chattanooga Operations LLC "are engaged in a company-wide policy of age discrimination against employees 50 years and older."
Named plaintiff Jonathan Manlove, 60, a resident of Oolltewah, and a former Supervisor in VW’s Chatanooga auto manufacturing facility, is bringing the suit on behalf of himself and similarly situated U.S. employees of Volkswagen AG and its subsidiaries.
The Plaintiffs’ legal team includes Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Nashville Office Managing Partner Kevin Sharp, who was a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee from May 2011 through April 2017, serving from 2014 to 2017 as the Court’s Chief Judge, and Leigh Anne St. Charles, an associate in the firm’s Nashville office.
Attorney Sharp said, “In the wake of the economically devastating ‘Dieselgate’ emissions scandal that destroyed VW’s reputation worldwide, the German automaker is now attempting to re-boot by rebranding Volkswagen as a younger, sleeker company. Apparently flouting U.S. environmental laws was not enough. The company is now attempting to purge older workers from its management ranks by implementing illegal age discrimination policies. Mr. Manlove is determined that VW’s impermissible employment practices will not go unnoticed or unchallenged.”
He said Dr. Herbert Diess, U.S. Brand Chief of the Volkswagen Group, "announced the company’s strategic rebranding campaign aptly named “TRANSFORM 2025+” in November 2016 in an effort to distract attention from the Dieselgate debacle. The plan focuses on replacing the old diesel-centric image of VW for a corporate persona emphasizing electric vehicles, e-mobility and connectivity, and 'significant improvements in efficiency and productivity.' ”
In a June 26, 2017 press release, Volkswagen AG announced, “We are expecting our management levels to become younger and slimmer,” and elaborating: “We are becoming slimmer, leaner and younger. This will make Volkswagen faster and more efficient at the same time as providing new motivation for junior managers.” Among the reforms of TRANSFORM 2025+ is “Pact for the Future” – a global policy of swapping older VW workers for much younger ones – with the goal of eliminating 30,000 global jobs.
Attorney Sharp said, "The company intends to shed some 7,000 of these jobs in North and South America currently held by workers born between 1955 and 1960 who are in their mid- to late-60s through an early retirement scheme it euphemistically refers to as “natural fluctuations.”
"Three days after the company issued its 'younger, slimmer' press release, Mr. Manlove was demoted and transferred to a position in a different department, his first position when he joined VW in 2011. VW informed him the June 2017 demotion 'was in recognition of his hard work,' and gave him one year to find a new position in the company, or the demotion would become permanent.
"the year since, Mr. Manlove has applied for other positions in the company, but VW management has prevented him from securing them."
“The clock is ticking for Jonathan, and his efforts to undo his discriminatory demotion have not been successful,” said attorney St. Charles. “No monetary compensation is at stake for him or members of the class. He is a talented American auto worker who simply wants to continue performing the work at VW he is most capable of doing at a salary commensurate with his considerable training, skills, and experience. He and others facing age discrimination at the company have many years of work productivity remaining. Demoting them and eliminating their positions to embellish VW’s tarnished reputation is simply wrong.”
The complaint "describes the plight of additional U.S. employees at VW older than 50 who have experienced similar recent discrimination as part of the Pact for the Future initiative."
The suit seeks injunctive relief for Mr. Manlove and other class members, including "preventing VW from making his demotion permanent, requiring the company to restore his former title and work responsibilities, and preventing VW from discriminating against other older workers in the future."
The complaint also asks the court to certify a collective action under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, which protects employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment. A jury trial is requested.