Golf resort

15 older workers allege age discrimination against Innisbrook Golf Resort

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

One of the plaintiffs, Mike Markonios, worked at Innisbrook Resort for 45 years before being fired at 62.

Five of the terminated employees were in their 60s, according to the Pinellas County age discrimination lawsuit filed last month against Salamander Innisbrook LLC, the Palm Harbor resort’s parent company. Nine had worked there for more than two decades.

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

Mike Williams, general manager of Innisbrook Resort, said the company could not comment on ongoing litigation. But he added that the station is a “fully inclusive work environment” that does not discriminate based on age.

“We look forward to all of the facts coming to light during the legal process,” Williams said.

All 15 plaintiffs could not be reached or declined to comment for this story, citing the pending case.

The former employees, who are all over 40, allege they were fired along with other station staff at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to the Complaint and the Commission charges for the equal employment opportunities filed by workers.

But as younger employees received calls about returning to work in June, older employees were laid off, the filing said. He alleges the company’s decision on which employees to fire was “age-driven”, regardless of performance or years worked at the station.

Taylor Roebig, a workers’ attorney, declined to comment on the number of young workers who were fired along with the plaintiffs in the case.

“The trial has only just begun,” she said. “We will be entering the discovery phase, and that is where additional information will be revealed.”

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

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

Age discrimination in the workplace may be on the rise as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, several studies suggest.

About 80 percent of older adult workers in an AARP survey conducted last year said they had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. This is up from 61% in 2018 and is the highest percentage since the seniors’ advocacy group began tracking this data nearly 20 years ago.

When a senior is laid off from a job, they are likely to remain unemployed longer than their younger colleagues, according to AARP, citing research from the Urban Institute.

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

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Such evidence suggests that the “Great Quit” affected older workers differently than employees of other age groups, as many did not retire by choice but were instead forced out of the workforce.

Liability issues amid a virus that has proven particularly deadly for older people may have exacerbated age discrimination over the past two years. Labor lawyers have predicted that the global crisis will lead to a wave of age discrimination lawsuits.

“Unfortunately, age discrimination happens, and it shouldn’t,” Roebig said. “Because there are laws in place to protect older people from being victimized.”

Former employees involved in the lawsuit are seeking financial compensation for lost wages and emotional damage.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declined to comment on findings of discrimination complaints filed with its office regarding the 15 Innisbrook employees, citing the federal agency’s confidentiality rules.