AKRON (Sept. 18, 2002) — Goodyear will alter a controversial performance evaluation system for its salaried employees, but the decision didn't prevent the filing of an age discrimination lawsuit stemming from the company's implementation of the system.
The Akron tire maker said Sept. 11 it will change its 18-month-old A-B-C grading system for salaried workers because it was confusing to managers and the “forced distribution” of grades wasn't getting the results the company wanted, a Goodyear spokesman said.
Under the A-B-C grading system, salaried employees were evaluated within their departments or work groups, and about 10 percent were given As, 80 percent Bs and 10 percent Cs. Workers receiving Cs weren't eligible for merit raises and were warned more Cs could lead to demotions or firings.
But a group of eight former and current Goodyear employees believes the evaluation system has another problem: It unfairly targets older workers. Attorneys representing the group filed a discrimination suit Sept. 12, on the heels of Goodyear's announcement it is changing its grading system.
Steven Bell, an attorney with Simon Law Firm in Cleveland and a co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said there is overwhelming evidence showing the grading system impacted a disproportionate number of “older” workers at Goodyear. Ohio law protects people 40 years of age or older in age discrimination cases, he said.
Goodyear's decision to change its system had nothing to do with the suit's potential filing, the spokesman said. The company's human resource department has been reviewing the system for several months and now needs to prepare to train people so a new system can be implemented in time for spring evaluations, he said.
The problem with the A-B-C system for Goodyear was the forced distribution of grades was done on a micro level, within individual work groups, rather than a macro-level, a misperception by managers that made apparent the need for more training, the spokesman said. Plaintiffs attorneys for the Goodyear employees filed the suit in Summit County Common Pleas Court as a class action, which must be certified as such by a judge.
The named plaintiffs in the case all are in their mid-50s or older, received C grades in their evaluations and suffered an “adverse employment action” as a result of that grade. In addition to economic damages, the suit seeks remedies for pain and suffering and reputation injuries caused by Goodyear.
The AARP is joining this lawsuit much as it did in a similar case with Ford Motor Co. Ford dropped its forced ranking and distribution grading system in 2001 after about 500 employees sued over age discrimination. Eventually the sides settled, with $10.6 million going to affected employees.
But Mr. Bell said the threat of a lawsuit absolutely helped force Goodyear's hand. “There was no secret in what we were doing,” he said. “We wanted people to know as early as possible and invigorate interest.”
Mr. Bell said once the media developed interest in Goodyear's grading policies, his sources told him the firings more or less stopped. Goodyear's official decision was a good step, he added. “It ends the discrimination for the future. But it does nothing to address the past harm.”
Goodyear attorneys, with whom none of the plaintiffs' attorneys have had contact since the issue became public, contacted him the morning of Sept. 12, Mr. Bell said. Given the lack of contact with Goodyear, the company's decision was a pleasant surprise, said Laurie McCann, an attorney with the American Association of Retired Persons Foundation Litigation in Washington.
If the case as filed is designated as a class action, class members would have to meet these criteria: current or former Goodyear employee; U.S. citizen; at least 40 years old by Jan. 1 of this year; evaluated under the A-B-C system with at last one C grade; and suffered harm from that grade.
“If you have a 58-year-old employee with 30 years in who has always been loyal and received stellar ratings, then out of nowhere is told he's not doing a good job, that's devastating,” Mr. Bell said. “Some real emotional harm has been caused here.”
As occurred in the Ford case, the plaintiffs' attorneys always are open to settlement, Ms. McCann said. No one wants to prolong the case or is dead-set on litigation, but the channels of communication have to be opened, and most importantly, the plaintiffs have to be made whole, she said.