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Bethune-Cookman University fights age discrimination claim

When an employee is let go by a company, there are commonly hard feelings. Because it is difficult to hear criticism about performance, an employee may look for another excuse for the employment separation. For instance, if the employee's replacement has a different gender, age or ethnicity, the employee may claim that the employer engaged in improper discrimination. Employers must then be prepared to show that the worker was fired for a legitimate reason, such as poor performance. If the former employee does not back off from the claim, the parties may have to engage in business litigation to resolve the dispute.

Bethune-Cookman University, in Daytona Beach, Florida is currently facing this very issue after it fired its 65-year old football coach approximately two and a half years ago. The University explained to the coach that it wanted to take the football program in a different direction, which was an allowable reason for employment separation according to the coach's contract. Although the coach had led the Wildcats to many wins in his 13 season history, he was fired after the team was beaten 42-6 by its rival in a championship game. 

The new Wildcats coach was 39 years old when he was hired, leading the former coach to file a lawsuit asking for $1.2 million in damages under claims of age discrimination and breach of contract. The University refused to back down or settle with the former coach, and the case recently proceeded to trial. Employers who believe they have wrongly been accused of discrimination may want to consult with legal counsel to prepare the strongest possible defense against a disgruntled employee’s claims.

Source: The Daytona Beach News Journal, “Judge to decide if former B-CU football coach was fired over age,” Frank Fernandez, May 17, 2013

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