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Detroit judge set to rule on Ford firing data

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Detroit judge set to rule on Ford firing data

Reuters / February 28, 2006 - 3:00 pm

DETROIT -- A Detroit judge on Wednesday, March 1, will consider whether Ford Motor Co. should be forced to open its books and share potentially sensitive data on thousands of recently fired white-collar workers as part of a pending age discrimination lawsuit.

The hearing before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Daphne Means-Curtis stems from the decision of six veteran Ford engineers to challenge their January dismissal from the No. 2 U.S. automaker in court.

The plaintiffs, who have filed suit in both state and federal court, claim they were fired as part of a Ford restructuring that targeted older workers on the brink of eligibility for a more costly pension available to those with 30 years of experience.

Ford also faces a separate but similar complaint of age discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a 52-year-old former engineer.

Michael Pitt, the lawyer for the fired workers, has asked Means-Curtis to force Ford to hand over data on all of the white-collar staff targeted in its recent cost-cutting efforts.

Ford, reeling from market-share losses, plans to cut up to 30,000 jobs and shed more than a quarter of its production capacity in order to return to profitability in the crucial U.S. automobile market.

In an initial cost-cutting step, Ford cut several thousand salaried jobs in the United States and Canada last year.

"The statistics, we believe, will show that the salaried workers were targeted because of their age and their proximity to the 30-year service pension," said attorney Michael Pitt, who represents the plaintiffs.

Ford denies any wrongdoing. The company is seeking to block the attempt to compel it to disclose company-wide data on the recent round of firings.

"While the employee separations were difficult for everyone affected, these actions were a necessary response to the company's current economic challenges," said Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes. "The company adhered to the law in making these difficult decisions."

In a court filing, Pitt argues that the clock is ticking for Ford employees who were fired in late January to determine whether they will challenge their dismissal.

William Armstrong, a 51-year-old former Ford engineer, who was the first to file an age discrimination lawsuit, was given until March 12 by Ford to decide whether he would accept a severance package and surrender his right to sue, Pitt said.

Armstrong and other fired workers were provided information on those being terminated within their job classifications, but not potentially more telling company-wide data, Pitt said.

The partial data show that while Ford fired 9 percent of one kind of product development engineer, only 2 percent of those between 28 and 39 years old were targeted, Pitt said in a court filing.

"The gross disparities in selection rates between the younger and older groups is highly indicative of age discrimination," he said.

Ford is being represented by a pair of attorneys from the high-profile Los Angeles-based firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher: Eugene Scalia, the son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; and Theodore Boutrous, who has defended Wal-Mart Stores Inc. from a massive sex-discrimination lawsuit.

Link: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/arti...G/60228031/1003

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