The latest proposed class action against Volkswagen comes from an employee who alleges a new personnel policy effectively forces older workers out of their jobs through “coercive” early retirement or “natural fluctuations.” The 27-page complaint claims that defendants Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. and Volkswagen Chattanooga Operations, LLC, by attempting to “purge” older workers, are in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Tennessee Human Rights Act.
As is common lately in many lawsuits against Volkswagen, the plaintiff’s allegations stem from the years-longglobal emissions scandalknown as “Dieselgate.” In response to the “defeat device” controversy, the complaint says, Volkswagen set in motion a re-branding effort to “shed Volkswagen’s old diesel image and replace it” with that of a “modern, young company.”
“As part of this,” the lawsuit reads, “Volkswagen implemented a global policy consisting in part of eliminating older workers from the Company’s ranks.”
Once the U.S. government set its sights on Volkswagen, the case goes on, the company’s shares cratered by more than 33 percent, costing VW “over $26 billion in value.” In an attempt to radically change the narrative, Volkswagen rolled out a strategic rebranding initiative— organizational reform known as the “Pact for the Future”—touting electronic vehicles and “significant improvements in efficiency and productivity.” According to the plaintiff, a 53-year-old employee at the defendants’ Chattanooga plant, Volkswagen’s “Pact for the Future” painted a less-than-rosy picture for workers of a certain age:
“Volkswagen’s Pact for the Future is a labor campaign designed to eliminate 30,000 jobs world-wide, with approximately 7,000 coming from North and South America, primarily comprised of workers ‘born between 1955 and 1960.’ This scheme entails, among other things, an alleged commitment to avoid layoffs. Rather than fire older workers, Volkswagen made a pact to ‘eliminate’ them from the Company through ‘natural fluctuations.’”
The plaintiff claims that the effects of Volkswagen’s Pact for the Future initiative were felt at its Chattanooga facility in the months leading up to Summer 2017. The man says that despite his years of experience in logistics at the company, he was not allowed to apply for a promotion to a newly available management position. The job instead went to a woman in her early 30s, according to the complaint.
The case then points to a late-June 2017 press release from Volkswagen AG touting the success of its Pact for the Future rebranding effort. According to the plaintiff, the statement was merely “a nod to the stereotype and misconception that older workers are less productive than younger workers,” with VW stressing its efforts and ostensible success in becoming “slimmer, leaner and younger” would make the company more efficient. Two days later, the plaintiff says, all Volkswagen employees received an email from the company’s Executive Vice President of Human Resources acknowledging the Pact for the Future’s “presumed demographic impact” in reducing the age of its workforce. Despite being told in the email that the policy only applied to German employees, the plaintiff claims he was informed the next day that he was being demoted from assistant manager to supervisor.
The plaintiff goes on to allege outright that Volkswagen has purposefully set up barriers to prevent him and similarly-aged employees from advancement.
A timeline of how Volkswagen’s Pact for the Future has allegedly systematically swept away older employees can be read in the complaint below.