It is easy to think that age discrimination only happens to the “little guy” but a claim recently filed by the former head of legal giant Fox Rothschild LLP’s corporate department makes clear that it can happen to anyone. According to the lawsuit filed in New Jersey’s Mercer County Superior Court by 79-year-old attorney Michael J. Kline’s, the firm’s Princeton office and its firm chair forced him out of the firm based on his age, after almost 30 years of employment.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Kline alleges that he began facing discriminatory actions six years ago, in 2018. He says that Fox Rothschild firm chair Mark L. Morris, who is named as a defendant in his claim, had objected when the firm eliminated a previously existing age limit of 72 for equity partners. He points to his demotion to income partner and acceptance of a pay cut to $200,000 when he was 73 as the beginning of the firm’s illegal actions. He says that his title was changed again the following year when his title changed to Assistant General Counsel and his pay was dropped to $150,000. When he addressed his concerns about these pay and title cuts to Morris, Kline claims he was told that he would “never receive a raise.”

In a statement by Kline’s attorney to the press, there was no legitimate basis provided for the reduction in his compensation, and at the same time that these actions were taking place, the firm was internally praising his knowledge. “The firm was championing my client as an expert in his field and a mentor to more junior attorneys while simultaneously paying him less than more junior attorneys, and then forcing him to retire.”

The victim accuses the firm of illegally offsetting his diminished cash flow by beginning to pay him a $500,000 vested retirement benefit, though he had not yet retired. He cites his continued legal work for the firm, including leading preparations for the passage of the Corporate Transparency Act and generating new business. He also notes that in 2020, while the firm was making its discriminatory moves, he received the Unsung Heroes Award from the New Jersey Law Journal.

Despite his efforts to retain his position and his income, Fox Rothschild elected to end their relationship in the spring of 2023. At that time, he was called into a meeting with the firm’s general counsel and told that unlike in previous years, when he had been asked at remote meetings with Mr. Morris to sign single-year contracts that allowed him to remain at the firm, he was not being invited back. The terminology that was used was a “non-renewal of his contract and not a firing.” In objecting to this arrangement, Kline was successful in negotiating a contract for an additional year, but that document included clauses indicating that he would retire upon its expiration in March 2024. Kline’s lawsuit points to his signature of this contract as being provided “under mental anguish and economic duress.” Though he left the firm upon his one-year contract’s expiration, he says that his departure from the firm was not voluntary.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination specifically prohibits adverse employment actions based on an employee’s age. If you believe that you have been the victim of discrimination based on your age or any other factor protected under the state’s laws, the attorneys at Schorr & Associates can help. Contact us today to set up a time to meet and discuss the specifics of your situation.