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Jefferson County asks judge to dismiss JCC age discrimination suit

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Jefferson County has asked a federal judge to dismiss an age discrimination lawsuit brought by a retired Jefferson Community College administrator, contending, among other things, that her claims are time barred under statute of limitations.

Gail W. Miller, Chaumont, the school’s former director of college outreach, filed suit May 22 in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, against the college, its board of trustees, Jefferson County, college President Carole A. McCoy and Sarah H. Baldwin, the college’s former vice president of administration, alleging her job was eliminated in 2010 in retaliation for her complaining to the trustees about age discrimination in 2008.

Mrs. Miller, who had worked at the college since 1994, claims that she was promoted early in her career and for years received excellent performance reviews. However, she claims that as she grew older, she was treated differently than younger employees and that, instead of resolving her complaints about age issues, the defendants collaborated on how to terminate her employment.

In January 2009, she received an unfavorable employment review for the first time in her career and was provided a plan to improve her performance. Six months later, she was offered the newly created position of executive director of college outreach, which she started in June 2009. She claims the job was created “in an effort to simply get rid” of her. She maintains she was given an office that “was nothing more than a former closet” and in an area targeted for renovation. She claims that the office was “water-damaged and the rug was filthy” and that the room often was cold, causing her to have asthma attacks.

In April 2010, she was informed that her position was being eliminated in the school’s budget and that if she wanted another job on campus she would have to apply for it, despite the fact that one of her former positions was open, albeit with a different title. Her contract, however, called for her to be given a year’s notice before her job could be eliminated.

About four months before her job was due to be eliminated, she claims, she was “forced” to retire “for the sole purpose of maintaining the benefits of retirement including payments of health care insurance during (her) lifetime.” If she had not retired, and her job was eliminated, she would have lost the benefits.

In a response filed earlier this month by the county’s attorney, Robert C. Weissflach, Buffalo, the county contends the action was brought too late under law and should be dismissed. According to a memorandum of law in support of a motion to dismiss the complaint, Mrs. Miller’s action based on retaliation under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act should be time-barred because she failed to file a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge within the statutorily required 300 days of when the events complained about occurred. Filing a charge with the EEOC is a prerequisite to bringing a lawsuit under ADEA.

Mr. Weissflach further maintains that the retaliation claims should be dismissed because her complaint fails to state a plausible claim. It is argued that there is not a sufficient causal connection between her complaint to the trustees and any alleged adverse action taken, including the elimination of her job. It is maintained that the elimination of her job did not occur for nearly two years after she filed a grievance with the trustees.

Judge Norman A. Mordue has given Mrs. Miller’s attorney, Cheryl L. Sovern, Clifton Park, until Monday to respond to the county’s motion to dismiss.

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