Covanta Energy hit with discriminatory firing complaint

By Jon Campisi | Dec 16, 2013

A longtime employee of Covanta Energy has filed a wrongful termination

complaint against the Montgomery County business alleging he was fired from his job because of his age.

John Sammons, 61, who currently resides in Delaware, but previously lived in Limerick, Montgomery County, asserts in his civil action that the company violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act when it dismissed him from his position of 21 years in the fall of 2012.

Sammons, who was employed by Covanta and its predecessor in interest, Veolia, from the summer of 1991 until his firing on Sept. 27, 2012, was told he was being terminated “for cause,” but claims he was actually fired due to retaliatory and discriminatory reasons.

The plaintiff, who had been a facility safety coordinator for the last 16 years of his career with the defendant, had been used by Veolia, the predecessor company, to conduct audits of the health and safety compliance of other facilities, the record shows.

According to the complaint, Sammons was told he was being terminated at a meeting with a human resource representative and the company’s regional safety administrator.

The meeting occurred during the time the plaintiff was involved with a routine corporate health and safety audit, one that apparently ended with the facility having received a good score.

Sammons was ultimately told he was being fired for smoking in close proximity to an oxy-acetylene cart, although the plaintiff argues he was smoking in a designated area.

Sammons also said that there was no danger to health and safety since the cart was located 25 feet from the smoking area, the record shows.

The lawsuit says that the employee who designated the location of the smoking area never received discipline for doing so, and no other employees who smoked in the area received any adverse employment treatment.

Furthermore, those other employees were significantly younger than the plaintiff, the complaint states.

During his termination meeting, Sammons was also told he was unprepared for the corporate audit and that he had been uncooperative with the audit team.

“Mr. Sammons has conducted numerous successful audits for Covanta in the past and followed the same procedure he has always used in preparing for and participating in the audit,” the complaint reads. “Mr. Sammons denied that he was unprepared and uncooperative in the audit and gave numerous instances where he had complied with all of the auditor’s requests.”

Sammons ended up being replaced by a man 20 years his junior.

The lawsuit goes on to say that during his time at Covanta, Sammons was never written up for any performance issues until his March 2012 evaluation, at which time he was blamed for a “rash of injuries” at the facility.

The night shift supervisor who was working during the outage period, a white male in his 40s, was never “reprimanded or terminated but in fact, is still gainfully employed by Covanta,” the suit states.

The complaint also says that despite the plaintiff’s desire to keep working, a Covanta supervisor informed Sammons that he should attend meeting around Labor Day 2012 at which his purported retirement was going to come up.

“Mr. Sammons was confused as he had never indicated any plans to retire at any time but rather, was ready, willing, and able, and intended to continue working at Covanta,” the suit reads.

The complaint states that the defendant discriminated against Sammons based upon his age by using false reasons as a pretext to terminate him and “hide their true discriminatory intent of wishing to remove older workers from their employ.”

Covanta, the suit says, has shown a pattern of discriminating against older workers.

Sammons seeks unspecified compensatory damages, back pay with interest, lost benefits, liquidated damages, counsel fees, expert witness fees and litigation costs.

The suit was filed by Pennington, N.J. attorney Ayesha Hamilton.


The federal case number is 2:13-cv-07296-JS.

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