NJ Court Oks Verizon's Firing Of Older Worker Who Refused To Work As Telephone Lineman During Strike
The 60-year-old office worker said he lacked the physical ability to do the job because of his age and would have been a potential safety risk to himself and co-workers.
Age is not a disability but shouldn’t it be relevant when a worker is assigned to a job that requires physical labor?
The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, apparently doesn’t think so.
Verizon Wireless, Inc., assigned a 60-year-old office worker to “volunteer” work as a telephone pole lineman during a labor strike in 2016. When he refused, Verizon fired him.
A three-judge panel of the NJ appeals court recently held that Verizon would have violated New Jersey’s Age Discrimination Law if it had not assigned the older worker to the lineman position because that would have been favored treatment.
The plaintiff, Drini Zoto, died in 2022. He was an electronic systems engineer who held a Ph.d. He managed computer systems and data at Cellco Parthership, a traditional “landline” telephone company in NJ that is owned by Verizon. The appeal was brought by his estate.
Zoto said he was physically unable to do the lineman job, which required climbing ladders and telephone poles.
Zoto held an office job.
When Verizon’s union workers went on strike, Verizon assigned Zoto to emergency work involving “heavy lifting, working in elevated positions, and climbing ladders and telephone poles outside in all types of weather conditions.”
Zoto said he was in “‘reasonably good health” but could not work as a telephone pole lineman without jeopardizing his safety and that of his co-workers. In addition to his age, Zoto said he “suffered from high-blood pressure, vertigo, and had a fear of heights.”
He feared his physical inability to do the job would put himself and others at risk.
Verizon officials told Zoto to apply on-line for an “exception” but Zoto testified that Verizon did not offer a category that “associated with his claimed age-related restrictions.”
Zoto was fired in September 2016 for “job abandonment” when he didn’t show up for lineman training, and was replaced by a 38-year old worker.
He filed a lawsuit alleging age and disability discrimination and that his termination violated New Jersey public policy. His case was dismissed after Verizon filed a pre-trial motion for summary judgment.
The appeals court said Verizon did not engage in age discrimination because:
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