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Tandy Brand agrees to pay $95,000 in age discrimination suit

By Gheni_Platenburg
April 30, 2011 at 9:05 a.m.
Updated April 29, 2011 at 11:30 p.m.


WHO ARE THEY?

Tandy Brands designs, manufactures and markets fashion accessories for men, women and children.

The company sells its product lines under nationally recognized licensed brand names such as Wrangler, Totes and Dockers, as well as its own proprietary brands, such as Rolfs and Princess Gardner.

A Dallas-based fashion accessory designer and manufacturer will pay $95,000 to a woman fired from its Yoakum plant and who later claimed age discrimination.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the federal lawsuit against Tandy Brands Accessories, a Delaware corporation headquartered in Dallas, in federal court in Houston in September.

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Yoakum resident Menta Withrow, contended Tandy Brands violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act when the company fired Withrow from her management position because of her age.

"It is a good win," said Connie Wilhite, the EEOC senior trial attorney who handled Withrow's case. "It made the company rethink their position on things and take steps to improve their situation to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Despite having filed a response in November not only denying the plaintiff's allegations, but also going so far as to call the allegations "frivolous" and "without foundation and merit," the company agreed to the settlement in late March.

"The company still denies all the allegations, but they decided it was in everyone's best interest if the case was resolved," said Dan Dargene, the defendant's attorney.

Withrow began working at the company's Yoakum facility in 1970, rising through the ranks to hold supervisory and management-level positions in various departments.

As part of a companywide restructuring initiative that began in 2003, the Yoakum manufacturing factory was downsized and converted into a receiving and distribution facility in 2007, according to the lawsuit.

In June 2007, Withrow, who was 62 at the time, was laid off from her manager position along with other older supervisors as part of the company's reduction of work force, while retaining two younger supervisors in their early 40s.

Despite having no experience as a receiving and returns supervisor, a man in his early 40's, was put in the position.

Withrow, on the other hand, had held managerial positions in receiving, including that of receiving supervisor from about 1993 to 1998, before she was transferred to foreman of the belt department.

Keeping in line with its efforts to infuse the workplace with a "new spirit," as was touted on the defendant's website complete with images of youthful staff, Tandy Brands chose to retain the substantially younger supervisor, according to the lawsuit.

During the course of the EEOC's investigation, the agency discovered that within four months, Tandy Brands terminated five other supervisors, whose ages ranged from 75 to 58, at its Victoria facility.

The EEOC only filed suit on behalf of Withrow.

"All the individuals other than Ms. Withrow signed releases saying they would not file a lawsuit against the company," said Wilhite. "If they hadn't signed, it is likely we would have gone for damages for them too."

In addition to the monetary relief, the settlement also requires Tandy Brands to post notice of non-discrimination in all company workplaces and offices; hold annual training for all managers, supervisors and employees; implement effective anti-discrimination policies, complaint procedures and investigative procedures; and other measures.

Withrow, who now works as a dietitian, was pleased with the settlement.

"I appreciate what she did for me. I felt like that's not quite all that they owed me, but I'm satisfied," said Withrow. "I just wanted what my wages would have been had I kept working. No more. No less."

Messages left for Tandy Brands administration were not returned as of Friday afternoon.

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