Earlier this month, Nexstar removed to federal court a complaint initially filed in state court by two former employees alleging age discrimination. Both had been terminated in 2013 from their positions at KSEE-TV, the NBC affiliate in Fresno, California. Plaintiff Faith Sidlow was a longtime anchor at the station and Plaintiff Richard Nitido had been hired in 2012 as Creative Services Director.
Thumbnail: Both Plaintiffs allege that they were fired as part of a company-wide policy of terminating employees over 40 years old. They allege that the company claimed that the reason for the terminations was a general reduction in force (RIF), but that the “effect” of the terminations had a “disparate impact” on employees over 40. They also allege that they asked Nexstar for copies of the policy or plan explaining the RIF, but that Nexstar refused to provide it.
You can read the Notice of Removal, which attaches the original state court lawsuits here.
Some procedural observations:
The Complaint, and an amended complaint, were filed in Fresno County Superior Court in April of this year and alleged claims of age discrimination (retaliation and wrongful termination against public policy) under California state law (specifically, the Fair Employment and Housing Act). Interestingly, it appears that the Plaintiffs did not file their claims with the EEOC under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), but instead with the California state agency under California state law (the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, their “mini-EEOC”). Evidently, they requested a right-to-sue letter and it was issued in February of this year. (Note: The EEOC allows you to request a right-to-sue letter after 180 days and may issue one if they do not intend to investigate your charge in the time alloted. I suspect many state agencies operate the same way).
So, they sued under state law. Nexstar removed it to federal court on May 2, 2014, claiming diversity jurisdiction (when the parties are from different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000). If the Plaintiffs do not fight the removal, and the federal court retains jurisdiction, it will mean that the U.S. District Court in California (a federal court) will be adjudicating the case exclusively based on the claims arising under California state law.
The Plaintiffs are asking for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.
Damages available to Plaintiffs under California state law and federal law are different. Under California’s state anti-discrimination statutes, compensatory damages are generally unlimited. You can also get punitives and attorney’s fees. Under ADEA however, you are limited to recovering according to a formula (backpay, liquidated damages, front pay, attorney’s fees) and cannot recover punitive damages. Defenses to claims of discrimination under California state law and federal law are also different. It may be harder for an employer to defend against such claims under state law.