Nielsen Age Discrimination Case Back On
Former Nielsen exec Christine Earl has been granted a federal appeals court ruling to press ahead with her discrimination case against her former employer, who she claims sacked her because of her age and health problems.
Earl joined Nielsen in 1994 as a Membership Representative, or ‘recruiter’, in Northern California, when she was 47 years old. Her job was to obtain consent from householders to have Nielsen’s TV tracking devices installed in their homes.
In 2005, she broke a Nielsen rule which forbids recruiters from leaving gifts at unoccupied households, and for this breach, she received a verbal warning. Earl then broke the rule again in January 2006, and as a result of these violations, the firm placed her on a ‘Development Improvement Plan (DIP) - an informal, non-disciplinary system that the firm uses to notify an employee that their performance has fallen below company standards.
At the end of that year, during her annual performance review, Earl’s supervisor Sally Dollard described her recruitment record as ‘outstanding’, concluding: ‘Overall, Christine had a good year with her production and she is always consistent with signing homes.’
Later in 2006, Earl was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy - damage to the nerves which causes pain in the feet and legs. She informed her supervisor, adding that as she got older, the condition would get progressively worse.
In October of that year, while on an assignment in Texas, Earl obtained the consent of a household with the correct demographics, but mistakenly wrote down the address of a different home on the form signed by the homeowner. Nielsen learned of Earl's mistake in December that year, and terminated her employment in January 2007, when she was 59 years old.
During the period before Earl’s termination, Nielsen hired five new recruiters for her region - four in their 20s and one in his early 30s - on less than half Earl’s salary, according to today’s ruling. One of these new recruiters consequently took over Earl’s former job.
Earl brought the suit against Nielsen in 2007, alleging age and disability discrimination and wrongful termination, but she was deemed to have produced insufficient evidence to enable a jury to conclude Nielsen’s guilt and the case was dismissed.
After subsequent examination by a three-judge panel, the court ruled yesterday that Earl has since presented ‘specific and substantial’ evidence that Nielsen did not sack younger recruiters who repeatedly violated similar policies, but received more lenient treatment from the company.
Nielsen attorney Matthew Ruggles argues that Earl’s disciplinary violations were ‘more severe and frequent’ that the other employees.
The appeals court has now reversed the district court’s original decision to dismiss the case.