Local company sued for age discrimination

Commission says WESODI showed bias against two electricians

A local company is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for age discrimination.

The EEOC claims Western Energy Services of Durango, WESODI, refused to hire two electricians because they were too old to perform the job duties.

WESODI, which denied any wrongdoing, asked the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local union for two electricians in New Mexico in 2009, according to a news release issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in Albuquerque on Thursday.

The company, a wholly owned subsidiary of La Plata Electric Association Inc., was formed in 1999 to help with electrical line work and to lay fiber-optic cable.

According to a Complaint and Jury Trial Demand letter the EEOC provided to The Durango Herald and will file in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Eric Camron, 72 at the time, was not hired for either job because he was too old, and the company wasn’t sure if he could keep up with the work. Dennis Thomas, 61 at the time, was turned down for the same reason, according to the complaint letter. The company hired a 24-year-old and 28-year-old for the jobs, the letter said.

“Employers cannot decide not to hire someone because of age. They can’t assume they aren’t physically able,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office.

O’Neill said the EEOC tried to reach a settlement with WESODI, but after none was reached, the agency decided to file a lawsuit.

The Complaint and Jury Trial Demand letter will be filed in the coming weeks, she said, and WESODI will have 30 days to respond. WESODI CEO Kenny Robinson said he was unaware of any lawsuit filed against the company, but the firm does not knowingly discriminate.

“We do not discriminate for any reason and especially not for age,” he said. “It’s very common for well over 40 percent of our workforce to be in the protected age group.”

Robinson would not comment about the complaints filed by Camron and Thomas.

The lawsuit is asking the courts to require WESODI to give both electricians “appropriate relief, including back wages and liquidated damages,” according to the EEOC news release. It also asks the court to require WESODI to institute and carry out policies that prevent age discrimination.

jdahl@durangoherald.com

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