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Dr. Zane Hurkin was hired at the age of 81, and then fired 8 days later. Dr.Hurkin’s employment discrimination lawsuit avers that his supervisor asked him a number of age-related questions during the job interview in January 2010 including, “Why do you want to work at your age?” The lawsuit alleges the employer set Dr. Hurkin up for failure.  Dr. Hurkin’s employment discrimination lawsuit averred that he “was subjected to discriminatory treatment and harassment due to his age, was denied at least one of his job responsibilities, was refused training, had his hours and pay reduced, was paid unequally, and was terminated.” According to filing with the court in the wrongful termination case, the pay scale for Dr. Hurkin’s job was between $162,843 and $231,608, but that he was paid only $105,000 a year.  At 81 years old, I suspect that the evidence also showed that he was replaced by a substantially younger doctor.

With these facts, the defense likely argued – as is common – that: (1) how could a person that had not been biased when hiring him become bias in 8 days; and (2) because Dr. Hurkin was already so far beyond expected work-life expectancies, any damages would be nominal.

Most often, these would be good defenses.  In opposing defense argument (1), the person hiring did discriminate in providing unequal pay.  Arguably, he recognized that not hiring the good doctor based on his age could cause a suit, so the evil employer hired him with the intent on making him decide it would be easier not to work.  The evil plan may have worked had they paid Dr. Hurkin at the right pay scale.

Instead, the case reached a jury.  And, those are the words that employers should fear.

In June, an Iowa jury awarded Dr. Hurkin more than $480,000 in lost wages, damages, and attorney fees. Dr. Hurkin will now be paid $147,012 for past lost wages, $1,464 for his equal pay claim, $157,357 for past emotional stress. To top it off, the employer also has to pay $142,422 for Dr. Hurkin’s attorneys’ fees.  This week the settled short of an appeal with Dr. Hurkin taking a $50,00 haircut to get his money now.

 In my mind, the employer overplayed its hand.  The case should have been settled earlier.  Don’t forget, that the employer not only had to pay Dr. Hurkin’s employment discrimination attorneys, they had to pay their employment defense lawyers.

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