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Odessa woman sues United Airlines, saying she was fired over her age

The airline says it will fight the accusations in court and doesn’t discriminate based on age.

A 64-year-old Odessa woman is suing United Airlines, accusing her former employer of terminating her because of her age.

Barbara Ceranek worked for United for nearly 30 years, most recently part-time from home in customer service, the lawsuit says. Ceranek was fired in August 2019. She fought the decision right away, the lawsuit says, only to be terminated again after she was briefly reinstated.

The lawsuit alleges in the time leading up to her firing, Ceranek’s manager made comments such as “if you don’t retire on your own, I will fire you sooner or later” and “aren’t you too old to do this job?”

United said in statements to the Tampa Bay Times that although it could not disclose why Ceranek was fired, it was not because of her age.

“We are aware of Ms. Ceranek’s allegations and can confirm that age, race or gender do not factor into termination decisions at United,” the statement said. "We believe we are in full compliance with the applicable laws and policies regarding this separation and will defend ourselves against these claims.'

Ceranek first filed the lawsuit at the end of September. Her attorney, Miguel Bouzas, said she has a record of “unblemished service."

“Rather than looking forward to retirement, Mrs. Ceranek is now looking for work at the age of 64 in an extremely competitive, COVID-19 dominated environment,” Bouzas said in a statement. “While we look forward to working with United to restore Mrs. Ceranek’s employment and make her whole, we remain committed to representing her in this action and vindicating her rights in the event they are unwilling to do so."

On Oct. 26, United filed for a 30-day extension to give the Chicago-based company more time to investigate and respond to the allegations.

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The lawsuit says Ceranek’s age was first brought up when a new manager began in 2018. The manager is accused of repeatedly asking Ceranek’s age, when she would retire and if “she was going to die on the computer taking calls."

Ceranek worked with her union to challenge the decision to terminate her and was in talks with the airline, the lawsuit says. But it goes on to say those discussions stopped once Ceranek filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In a statement, the EEOC said it would not confirm whether action had been taken by the commission based on Ceranek’s allegations.

Ceranek is asking for a jury trial and suing for back pay and benefits, interest on back pay and benefits, and compensation for damages, emotional pain and suffering.

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