Lawsuit claims age discrimination at Fiat Chrysler – USA TODAY
For the second time in two months, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been hit with a discrimination class action, this one alleging it mistreats older employees during their performance evaluations and as a result gives them lower pay and fewer promotions than their younger counterparts.
Among the allegations: That employees’ photographs are used during the performance review process at Fiat Chrysler. According to the lawsuit filed Feb. 27 in U.S. District Court, Fiat Chrysler’s upper-level managers who rarely work with the employees they are evaluating have the workers’ photo displayed in front of them when they are rating their performance.
The lawsuit claims that upper-level managers too often give lower scores to employees ages 55 and older, even when the employees’ immediate supervisors have given them glowing reviews. The lawsuit claims this ultimately results in lower pay and fewer promotions for older employees who are the victims of a review process that’s stacked against them.
For plaintiff’s attorney Shereef Akeel, the use of a worker’s picture during an evaluation process is especially startling,
“The use of a photograph in reviews is a first for me,” Akeel said. “The use of a photograph has no value in determining how well someone performed for a year. Someone can be judged by appearance rather than their performance … This process is fraught with danger.”
As of Thursday, Fiat Chrysler said that it had not yet been served with the lawsuit so it could not comment on the allegations.
“However, the company does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in the workplace based on a person’s age, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, etc.,” Fiat Chrysler said in a statement. “All claims of discrimination are investigated thoroughly and in a timely manner, and all violations are punishable up to and including termination.”
At issue for Fiat Chrysler are claims by a former diversity manager who alleges that while working at Fiat Chrysler she discovered its review process adversely affected older employees and African Americans for at least the years 2014 to 2017. Both groups were disproportionately getting lower scores than their white and younger counterparts.
Among those allegedly hurt by Fiat Chrysler’s review process is Dan Cerjanec, a 59-year-old midlevel professional who earned a six-figure salary at Fiat Chrysler and worked there for 26 years until he was fired on Feb. 21. According to his age discrimination lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status for older employees like himself, he received low scores for three years in a row when he didn’t deserve them. On Feb. 21, he was “terminated and escorted out of the building in front of his peers.”
“He feels betrayed,” Akeel said of Cerjanec. “He feels the company let him down.”
Cerjanec’s lawsuit came almost two months after the diversity manager revealed her alleged findings in her own lawsuit. That plaintiff is former Fiat Chrysler Diversity Manager Marlin Williams, who says that part of her job at Fiat Chrysler was to look for potential pay and promotion disparities involving minorities.
Her lawsuit claims that after discovering irregularities in pay, she filed a complaint with the company but it cost her. She was fired a year ago following a 30-year career promoting diversity at places such as Compuware, Knowledge Brokers and the City of Detroit.
According to Akeel, who is handling the race discrimination lawsuit, that class action could affect 800 to 1,000 African-American managers at all levels. To date, he said he has heard from about 60 potential class members in that case.
FCA has denied the race discrimination claims.
“The allegations contained in this lawsuit are without merit,” Fiat Chrysler has previously stated. “FCA US does not tolerate harassment or discrimination of any kind in the workplace … FCA US will pursue a vigorous defense of this challenge to its record and reputation.”
Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Tresa Baldas on Twitter @Tbaldas.