Succession Planning at Its Worst

By Karla Sanchez

Citing an “informal succession plan” doesn’t legitimize age-based layoff decisions. In Sharp v. Aker Plant Services Group, Inc., No. 11-5419 (6th Cir. Aug. 9, 2013), the employer selected employees for layoff in response to a business downturn. When the plaintiff asked the manager why he had been selected for layoff instead of a younger employee, the manager explained that the younger employee was being trained as a replacement for another older employee, pursuant to the company’s unwritten succession plan. The manager expected that the plaintiff would retire in about 15 years, about the same time as other employees of similar age, and the company would need people who would work ten-plus years more. The Sixth Circuit ruled the manager’s statements to be sufficient evidence to take the claim to trial.

Businesses may plan for the future, but “keep younger employees” is not a succession plan; it’s a lawyer-employment plan.

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