Is It Discrimination If My Former Company Refuses to Rehire Me After I Accept a Retirement Package?

November 7, 2011, by Kristan Peters-Hamlin

Many employees would not think of accepting a retirement package from their employer and then turning around and applying for a job there. But that is exactly what some AT&T employees did after they were retired early as part of layoffs and then reapplied when new job openings were posted at AT&T. When they were rejected for re-employment, they took the matter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").

The EEOC investigated and then filed a complaint, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission vs. AT&T Inc. et al., in federal court in the Southern District of New York in 2009, charging that AT&T violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 in refusing to rehire employees who had retired under various retirement and severance programs.

Judge J. Paul Oetken, a federal judge newly appointed by President Obama, has given final approval to the settlement of the age discrimination case filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against AT&T. Under terms of the consent decree that Judge Oetken signed, AT&T has agreed that they "will not maintain any policy prohibiting the rehiring of employees who left AT&T under the relevant retirement programs." AT&T also agreed not to retaliate against anyone involved in the litigation. There is no dollar amount noted in the decree. The parties agreed to be responsible for their own attorney fees and costs.

As an employment lawyer in New York and Connecticut, I frequently see cases where former employees, allegedly laid off in a downsizing, reapply for the same job months later when the job is reposted, and yet they are not considered because they accepted a severance package, or refused to do so and sued. This phenomenon is so common, that this AT&T case is an interesting and highly relevant precedent.