Norfolk Southern sued by feds over alleged hiring practices
A large public company based in Hampton Roads is in hot water with federal regulators over alleged hiring practices.
Norfolk Southern Corp. has been sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for allegedly breaking federal law by denying employment opportunities to qualified older workers.
Norfolk Southern allegedly gave preference to applicants under the age of 52 for special agent positions in the railroad’s law enforcement and security detail because the company figured older workers would retire soon after being hired. Norfolk Southern is Virginia’s 13th largest publicly traded company, according to Virginia Business’ most recent list of public companies headquartered in the state.
A 56-year-old applicant in New Jersey was allegedly told he would not advance in the hiring process because he was older than 52. The man had almost 30 years of law enforcement experience and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
“That’s pretty egregious,” Rosemary DiSavino, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney, says. “Our goal is to take the matter before a jury.”
Norfolk Southern said in a statement it typically doesn’t comment on pending litigation but was disappointed with the allegations in the lawsuit. Norfolk Southern, headquartered in Norfolk, operates a 19,500-mile freight railroad system in the eastern U.S. and has 27,100 employees.
“It does not accurately reflect the company’s focus on workplace diversity and inclusiveness,” the company’s statement says. “The allegations in the EEOC’s lawsuit are inconsistent with who we are and how our company operates. The company is confident that an unbiased assessment of the facts will demonstrate the fairness and integrity involved in its employment processes.”
Federal law prohibits age discrimination against people who are 40 or older, including screening out older applications based on the assumption that because of their age they are less committed to staying in the workforce.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey alleges that Norfolk Southern violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The suit seeks lost wages, liquidated damages and policy changes to prevent future age discrimination.
Though headquarterd in Norfolk, there have been media reports the railroad company is eying a move to Atlanta. Norfolk Southern did not respond directly to an inquiry about a potential move to Atlanta.
“Norfolk Southern is in the process of developing its next long-range plan,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement. “That effort is considering many courses of action, including the possibility of consolidating headquarters into a single location. Our long-range plan is complex and will take time to develop, and Norfolk Southern will publicize our plans and decisions when appropriate. Until then, our focus will be on the plan’s development.”