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15 older workers allege age discrimination against Innisbrook golf resort

Former workers at the Palm Harbor facility say they lost their jobs because they were too old.
Jeff Blankman, left, leads his son, Andrew Blankman, (both) of Philadelphia, Pa., from the Osprey Clubhouse on Tuesday, Jan 4, 2022, at the Innisbrook Resort. Fifteen former employees have filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the facility.
Jeff Blankman, left, leads his son, Andrew Blankman, (both) of Philadelphia, Pa., from the Osprey Clubhouse on Tuesday, Jan 4, 2022, at the Innisbrook Resort. Fifteen former employees have filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the facility. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Apr. 25

Fifteen former employees at a Pinellas County golf resort are alleging in a lawsuit that they lost their jobs because of their ages.

One of the plaintiffs, Mike Markonios, worked at the Innisbrook Resort for 45 years before he was let go at age 62.

Five of the terminated employees were in their 70s, according to the age discrimination suit filed in Pinellas County last month against Salamander Innisbrook LLC, the Palm Harbor resort’s parent company. Nine had been employed there for over two decades.

The company faced nearly identical allegations from four senior workers in 2009.

Mike Williams, managing director of Innisbrook Resort, said the company could not comment on pending litigation. But he added that the resort is a “fully inclusive workplace environment” that does not discriminate based on age.

“We look forward to the entire facts coming out during the legal process,” Williams said.

The 15 plaintiffs either could not be reached or declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing case.

The former employees, who are all over 40, allege that they were furloughed along with other resort staffers at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to the complaint and companion Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges filed by the workers.

But as younger employees received calls about returning to the workplace that June, older employees were terminated, the filing states. It alleges that the company’s decision about which employees to let go was “motivated by age,” regardless of performance or years worked at the resort.

Taylor Roebig, an attorney for the workers, declined to comment on how many younger employees were laid off at the same time as plaintiffs in the case.

“The lawsuit is just beginning,” she said. “We’re going to enter into the discovery phase, and that’s where additional information will come to light.”

In the 2009 case, Innisbrook was sued for age discrimination by four longtime employees who claimed they were fired and replaced by younger staffers. The parties settled the case ahead of trial.

The resort has faced litigation in years since — twice for allegedly failing to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act in its accommodations, and once for wage theft. Innisbrook denied any allegations of wrongdoing in these cases, and settled all three.

Age discrimination in the workplace may be on the rise in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, multiple studies suggest.

Roughly 80 percent of older adult workers in an AARP survey conducted last year reported having seen or experienced age discrimination on the job. That’s up from 61 percent in 2018, and stands as the highest percentage since the elder advocacy group began tracking this data nearly 20 years ago.

When a senior is terminated from a position, they’re likely to stay unemployed for longer than their younger colleagues, according to the AARP, which cited a study by the Urban Institute.

The number of older adults who retired in the face of unemployment during the first year of the pandemic was 10 times higher than in pre-pandemic times, according to a study from The New School Retirement Equity Lab released last month.

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Such evidence suggests the “great resignation” has hit older workers differently than employees in other age groups, as many did not retire by choice but were instead pushed out of the workforce.

Liability concerns amid a virus that proved particularly deadly for older adults may have exacerbated age discrimination during the last two years. Employment attorneys have predicted that the global crisis will lead to a wave of age discrimination lawsuits.

“Unfortunately, age discrimination does happen, and it shouldn’t,” Roebig said. “Because there are laws in place to protect older people from falling victim to this.”

The former employees in the suit are seeking financial compensation for lost wages and emotional damages.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declined to comment on any findings of discrimination complaints made to their office concerning the 15 Innisbrook employees, citing the federal agency’s confidentiality rules.

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