If the AARP can’t win summary judgment in an age discrimination case, then who can?

Who’d believe that the American Association of Retired Persons would fire somebody because she was too old?

Who, indeed. The organization recently won a nice summary judgment victory in an age discrimination suit brought in federal court in New York by a former employee. The plaintiff was 50 when she was hired by her 56-year-old boss, and fired for poor performance when she was 59 by the same boss, who by that time was 65.

To the AARP’s credit, they didn’t just rely on their reputation as an advocate for older Americans. They actually did a bang-up job from an HR standpoint. So good, that it’s worth a look.

To make it fun, I’ll tell you the story, and you find every excellent HR practice by the AARP. My own list is at the end of the post. You may find more than I did. Feel free to include your score (and anything I missed) in the comments section.

HERE’S THE STORY – see whether you can find all of the excellent HR moves this AARP office made. 

Marjorie Landolfi was hired by Ms. Wagh in 2001 to be an operations supervisor for the AARP’s office in New York City. She did fine until 2010, when her job duties were restructured because of position eliminations and closer budget oversight. As a result of the changes, she was required to handle significantly more of the “budgetary” aspects of the office, a job to which it appears she was not suited, either by education, experience, or inclination.

After Ms. Wagh’s boss criticized Ms. Landolfi’s handling of the budgetary matters, Ms. Wagh arranged for Ms. Landolfi to get one-on-one training, which apparently didn’t do much good. Ms. Landolfi’s poor handling of budgets was criticized in detail in her first performance review after the change. In response, Ms. Landolfi asked for more training, which was provided. The trainer reported back, essentially, that Ms. Landolfi just didn’t seem to get it. Meanwhile, Ms. Wagh told Ms. Landolfi that she would be put on a performance improvement plan, with the idea that some “structure” would be put in place to let her get the help she needed.

By November 2010, things were not looking good for Ms. Landolfi. She had committed two major budgetary screw-ups. Ms. Wagh then sent an email to her boss, expressing concerns about Ms. Landolfi’s performance and asking whether there might be a different spot for her in the organization, since she’d done a good job before her duties had changed. (Unfortunately, nothing was available.)

In December 2010, Ms. Wagh told Ms. Landolfi that she would start on the PIP in the new year. The first PIP began January 19, 2011, was to be in effect 60 days, and contained specific expectations.

In February 2011, Ms. Landolfi had her annual performance review, which specifically addressed the ways in which she was failing to perform her job adequately. Her PIP expired in March, and Ms. Wagh recommended that she be terminated. Instead, the decision was made to extend the PIP period for another 90 days. At the end of the extended period, Ms. Landolfi was fired.

Ms. Landolfi accused Ms. Wagh of saying in January 2011 that she wanted to replace Ms. Landolfi with a younger person who had a financial background. Ms. Wagh denied saying this, but normally an alleged comment like that by a decision maker would be enough to defeat summary judgment and send the case to a jury trial. In this case, the court said that the alleged comment didn’t defeat summary judgment in light of the overwhelming evidence of Ms. Landolfi’s unsatisfactory performance in her new role.

See why it’s good to practice that HR hygiene?

HOW MANY OUTSTANDING HR PRACTICES DID YOU FIND IN THIS STORY? Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Arranging for Ms. Landolfi to get training so that she’d be able to handle her new job duties.
  2. Providing detailed, specific criticism in the areas in which Ms. Landolfi was deficient.
  3. Warning her, months in advance, that a PIP was in her future.
  4. Providing additional training upon Ms. Landolfi’s request.
  5. Exploring the possibility of finding a different position for Ms. Landolfi, since she had been a good employee in the past.
  6. Documenting the performance issues, specifically and in detail.
  7. Warning her again (about a month in advance) that the PIP would be taking effect.
  8. Putting her on a PIP, with clear expectations.
  9. Addressing the continuing performance issues, in detail, in her next performance review.
  10. Instead of firing her at the end of the first PIP period, extending the period for another 90 days.

Did I miss any?

Moral of the story: Respect your elders! Nice work, AARP.