Henn v. National Geographic Society

819 F.2d 824 (1987)

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Henn v. National Geographic Society

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
819 F.2d 824 (1987)

Facts

In response to declining sales, the National Geographic Society (National Geographic) (defendant) decided to reduce its ad-sales staff. An internal memo recommended firing salespeople over age 55 to reduce the staff’s average age and ensure future ad sales. However, National Geographic rejected that advice and instead offered salespeople over age 55 the option to retire early in exchange for incentives including severance pay. National Geographic gave the salespeople over two months to consider the offer. Twelve salespeople, including Robert Henn (plaintiff), took the offer. However, Henn and three other early retirees (collectively, the retirees) (plaintiffs) subsequently sued National Geographic in federal court, alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The retirees asserted that they felt pressured to retire early because nobody at National Geographic would tell them whether they should take the early-retirement offer, which made them fear the consequences of turning it down. However, National Geographic responded that it had not made recommendations to avoid pressuring employees to make a specific decision. The retirees also alleged that they were threatened with negative consequences if their sales did not increase. However, all four retirees were performing under their ad-sale quotas at the time. The district court granted summary judgment for National Geographic, noting that early retirement violates the ADEA only if the alternative to early retirement is a constructive discharge (i.e., the employee’s working conditions become so difficult that the employee is forced to leave). The district court concluded that the retirees’ working conditions had not changed and that they had voluntarily chosen retirement. The retirees appealed. While the appeal was pending, a different federal appellate court held that every retirement under an early-retirement plan established a prima facie case of age discrimination.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Easterbrook, J.)

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