Originally created 01/03/98

EEOC claims TJX outlet discriminates against older workers



NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The federal watchdog against workplace bias has accused an outlet of retailer TJX Cos. Inc. of harassing and firing workers over age 40 simply because of their age.

A T.J. Maxx store in northern New Jersey subjected older employees to a "hostile work environment" through unfair discipline, verbal harassment and "overt hostility" since August 1995, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Officials for TJX, which owns clothing and home-goods stores including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, could not be reached for comment on Friday. Its headquarters in Framingham, Mass., was closed and messages left with security personnel and on voice mail were not returned.

The EEOC made the claims in a class-action lawsuit filed in November in U.S. District Court here, focusing on a 57-year-old saleswoman fired from a T.J. Maxx store in West Caldwell, N.J.

TJX is due to file a response to the charges later this month.

The company is a leading off-price apparel retailer and reported revenue of more than $6.689 billion in 1996.

At the West Caldwell store, the EEOC charged that discrimination against Betty Heyner began in June 1995. A sales associate, she was denied a promotion to become the lead jewelry sales associate and was then fired, the agency said.

Ms. Heyner and other older workers were the target of "abusive and hostile comments" about their age by the store manager, Joanne Hein, and other younger managers, the lawsuit said.

Ms. Hein declined to comment Friday on the lawsuit. "You would have to speak to somebody at the home office," she said.

The lawsuit gave no indication how many older workers were subject to unlawful treatment.

The EEOC said managers documented the supposedly poor performance of older workers "in an effort to terminate them and replace them with younger outside job applicants."

In addition, younger employees did not receive the same discipline for the same conduct, the EEOC said.

The agency is asking U.S. District Judge William H. Walls to bar TJX from such discrimination and institute programs to provide equal opportunities for people age 40 and over.

It also seeks back pay, with interest, to Ms. Heyner and any others hurt by the company's behavior, as well as reinstating and promoting her, and others, who were unfairly fired or held back.

TJX last year had 577 T.J. Maxx stores, 457 Marshalls stores, 68 Winners Apparel Ltd. stores in Canada, 21 HomeGoods off-price home fashions stores and 20 T.K. Maxx off-price apparel stores in the United Kingdom.