PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Jan. 23 dismissed portions of a lawsuit alleging discrimination in leadership, screening and diversity policies lodged against a retailer, but left intact a charge of discrimination in an employee relocation policy.
The suit was filed against IKEA HOLDINGS US, INC.; a furniture, kitchen appliance and home accessory retailer headquartered in Europe.
The plaintiff is Brandon Paine, a 49-year-old employee of the company who filed a collection action suit alleging IKEA violated provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
The allegation stated that IKEA officials intentionally discriminated against older workers as a practice and policy in favor of younger employees.
Five company policies were faulted in the plaintiff’s suit: Employee potential and relocation policy, selection in leadership development, screening interviews by recruitment and the company’s diversity policy.
IKEA moved to dismiss the case.
The court denied IKEA’s motion to dismiss the potential and relocation policy portion of the lawsuit, but granted dismissal of the other three policies.
“IKEA challenged the five policies Paine identified as insufficiently specific,” the court opinion read. “Paine responded that he alleged policies that are specific enough at this initial, pre-discovery phase. The potential policy and the relocation policy are specific enough to survive a motion to dismiss. The leadership development policy, screening interview policy, and diversity policy are not.”
The brief explained that IKEA allegedly used ‘potential’ as a proxy for youth to assess promotability in an age-biased manner.
“This was part of a pattern and practice of intentional discrimination, or, in the alternative, was a facially neutral policy that resulted in a disparate impact on older workers’ promotion rates,” the opinion noted.
The company’s relocation policy, the brief explained, asked applicants about their willingness to relocate and considered willingness to relocate in deciding whom to promote, even for positions that did not involve relocating.
The court reasoned the relocation policy could have a negative impact on older workers if older workers were less willing or less ability to move than younger workers.
The court found the plaintiff in the remaining allegations had not been specific enough on three of the policies to show discrimination.
“The remaining three policies, the leadership development policy, the screening interview policy and the diversity policy are too generalized to constitute specific employment practices,” the court brief said.