Woman, 57, awarded $200K in Mondelez age-retaliation case
She says she was told to step aside and let younger employees shine. And to not speak during weekly staff meetings.
In the summer of 2013, manager Joan Konsavage, then in her early 50s, began hearing from her Mondelez International boss that she should step aside and let younger employees shine. The multibillion-dollar snack-food giant had recently split off from Kraft Foods and was building a new team at its Wilkes-Barre distribution center.
But Konsavage, of Wilkes-Barre — who had been hired at Mondelez's predecessor company Nabisco in 1983 — wasn't keen on those suggestions and had developed other concerns.
She was told not to speak in weekly staff meetings, according to a lawsuit she later filed. One area of the warehouse came to be called "Deadwood" because of the older employees working there, she said.
And she was told, according to her deposition, "You have no potential at your age. You lack learning ability. You lack agility. You have been here too long."
Konsavage, now 57, complained to Mondelez's top management in Wilkes-Barre in August 2013. The company manufactures and markets Oreos, Ritz, Chips Ahoy, and other consumer treats.
The supervisors didn't help, court documents say. Instead, they demoted Konsavage, an inventory manager, and cut her pay, she claimed.
Months later, Mondelez's human resources department investigated whether she improperly influenced a management survey so that she received good reviews, and then lied about that in an interview with HR — a violation of company policy and the reason for firing her, Mondelez claimed in court documents.
Konsavage denied doing anything wrong and in June 2015 filed a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
This month, an eight-member jury in Scranton returned its verdict, agreeing that Konsavage was fired in retaliation for complaining about age discrimination and awarding her $200,000 in compensatory damages. The jury did not award Konsavage lost wages or conclude that she had been discriminated against for being a woman.
Konsavage felt "relieved to be vindicated. It was the only place she ever worked, and she felt like she was clearing her name," her lawyer, Christine E. Burke, of the Bensalem firm Karpf, Karpf & Cerutti, said Wednesday.
Burke added the Konsavage case was "truly the little guy against this big company."
Mondelez's lawyer, Leslie Miller Greenspan, with the Tucker Group in Philadelphia, said that "while we disagree with the verdict, we accept the jury's findings as the final step in this protracted litigation. In the end, the jury rejected seven out of eight claims by the plaintiff and awarded her less than one fourth of her pretrial demand and less than we offered to resolve the case a year ago to avoid the trial."
Konsavage never put into writing her discrimination complaints, only telling her superiors and human resources department in person about them, Burke said.
A former Mondelez assistant manager in human resources confirmed in an affidavit that Konsavage had complained about discrimination to her, giving credence to Konsavage's account, Burke said.
The former assistant manager also said that supervisors spoke disparagingly of older employees, with one calling them "steady Eddies" and "one-trick ponies" because they had worked for so long in one place.
"If you have a valid complaint, it is good to put in an email or an internal memo," said Burke, who specializes in employment cases. "The law does not require it, but it helps to show it to the jury. They like to see a paper trail."