Jury decides WU did not discriminate based on age

| News Editor

Washington University was awarded $12,000 after a St. Louis County jury found that the University did not pass over an employee for a different position because of her age.

Judy Sawyer was let go as associate director of the engineering school’s dual-degree program in 2006. Four months later, she took a new job at the University in which she copies transcripts in the registrar’s office. When a new assistant dean position opened in the engineering school, Sawyer, then 64, believed that she was passed over for a promotion because of her age.

The employee selected for the new position was 29, though he eventually passed on the job because it didn’t pay enough.

Sawyer, now 66, is still employed in the registrar’s office.

The University informed Sawyer in 2006 that her program was downsizing—and she was let go after 15 years of service.

Sawyer originally filed two charges against the University. The first charge, which was later dropped, stemmed from Sawyer’s termination in 2006. The second charge, of which the jury acquitted the University, resulted from Sawyer not being hired as an assistant dean in 2008.

The jury decided on Judy Sawyer v. The Washington University on Oct. 29. The St. Louis County Court determined that age discrimination was not the reason she did not get the job.

“The jury unanimously found in the University’s favor on the age discrimination claim, we believe, because there was simply no evidence that the applicants’ ages were a factor in the hiring decision, as reflected in part by the fact that the first person whom the hiring manager contacted and attempted to recruit into the position was older than Ms. Sawyer,” Joseph Sklansky, assistant vice chancellor and associate general counsel, wrote in an e-mail to Student Life.

The jury also decided to award the University $12,000 to cover all litigation fees.

Sawyer claimed that she lost over $30,000 in wages and pension contributions because she was passed over for assistant dean.

The University’s defense attorney also cited a past performance issue that automatically disqualified Sawyer from the assistant dean position, but the University did not find out about that issue until court proceedings had begun.

Sawyer declined inquiries from Student Life for comments on the ruling.

Though the University was not charged with age discrimination in the Sawyer case, in February 2009, the St. Louis Circuit Court decided that the University did engage in age discrimination against former surgeon Joel Cooper.

Cooper worked at the Washington University School of Medicine from 1988 to 2005, until he was 65. He claimed that the University pushed him out of his job by cutting his salary after he did not step down.

The jury ruled in Cooper’s favor and awarded him $525,000.

Cooper now works as the chief of thoracic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where he earns an even higher salary than he did at Washington University.

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