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November 2011

Seattle Team Wins Summary Judgment Motion in Age Discrimination and Withholding Wage Case

Co-Managing Partner David Silke and Associate Sarah Turner of the Seattle office obtained summary judgment and dismissal of a former employee's age discrimination and wage withholding claims asserted against their client in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle. 

The case involved an employee who worked remotely as a Senior Technical Writer in Washington for a company located in Minnesota. The employee was terminated for performance reasons. At the time of her termination, she was fifty-nine years old, and she was replaced by a sixty year old employee. Upon her termination, the company informed her that she would receive her accrued but unused vacation pay once she returned the company's computer equipment and all other company property in her possession. The employee waited two months to return the equipment and immediately upon receiving the equipment, the company paid her for her accrued but unused vacation time. Prior to returning the company property, the employee filed a lawsuit alleging claims of age discrimination and wage withholding under Washington law.  

Although the age discrimination claim was meritless on its face, the employee made the argument that there was direct evidence of age discrimination, and she claimed that she was not "replaced" because she and her replacement overlapped in employment for a few months.  She claimed that other managers and employees were not told until later that the older employee had been hired to replace the employee. The Court was not persuaded by these arguments and held that the employee failed to establish a case for age discrimination. The Court also found that the company had met its burden by presenting legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the employee's termination. 

The employee also took the position that vacation pay constitutes a "wage" under the Washington wage and hour statutes. The Court confirmed that Washington employers are not required to pay employees for unused vacation time unless the employer agrees to do so, or unless there is a policy or practice relied upon by the employees. Since there was no such policy or practice in place, the Court ruled in favor of the employer and dismissed the employee's wage withholding claim.

David W. Silke
Sarah N. Turner