Coach’s Lawsuit against the Cavs’ Highlights that Salary Reduction Efforts May be Claimed as Age Discrimination

     The Columbus, Ohio employment attorneys at Nardone Limited regularly assist our clients with labor and employment issues, such as Department of Labor compliance, as well as advice on preventing and responding to discrimination charging affidavits filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (“OCRC”). As a part of Nardone Limited’s employment law practice, we are always following recent employment law news and events. One recent story that has grabbed our attention is the employment lawsuit filed against the Cleveland Cavaliers last Thursday, November 1, 2018.

Former Assistant Coach’s Claims Against the Cavs’

     In the case referenced above, former Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach, James Boylan, has claimed that the Cavaliers used the issue of salary as a pretext to terminate Mr. Boylan, based on his age. See James Boylan v. Cavaliers Holdings, LLC, et al., Cuyahoga Case No. CV-18-906345. Mr. Boylan claims in the suit that statements from then head coach Ty Lue indicated that age discrimination was the motive behind the team not exercising its option to keep Boylan on for another year as an assistant coach. The statements at issue in the case related to the team’s concerns about the dollar amount of Coach Boylan’s option, while at the same time making some ill-conceived comments that they want to “go younger.” Specifically, the Complaint alleges in part that former coach Ty Lue said the following to Boylan:

They’re not gonna pay that kind of money for three assistants on the bench. He wants to go younger in that position and, you know, find somebody who’s a grinder and younger in that position.

See Complaint, ¶33. News coverage regarding Mr. Boylan’s claim can be found at:

     Thus, casting aside the Cavalier staff’s comments about age, the case perfectly tees up the question: does letting go of employees to lower your company’s cost structure expose employers to viable claims of age discrimination, if those employees just happen to be over 40?

Applicable Age Discrimination Laws

     The law governing federal age discrimination claims would say that the answer is no, unless the claimant can show that age bias was the direct motive for taking adverse employment action. Under Ohio law, on the other hand, age bias must only be established to be one of the motives for taking adverse employment action. See Thomas v. Columbia Sussex Corp., 2011-Ohio-17 (10th Dist.).

     Mr. Boylan has brought his claim in the referenced lawsuit solely under Ohio law. Thus, Mr. Boylan will face the slightly lower standard under Ohio law.

Employer Takeaways

     Boylan’s claim presents an interesting case that we will be watching closely, because the issue of lowering cost structure is one that—by its very nature—sounds the bells of employers making a business decision. Yet, at the same time, those reductions can often involve older employees and present potential exposure under age discrimination laws. As a result, we recommend that businesses contact their employment lawyers whenever considering reducing staff to lower your cost structure.

Contact Nardone Limited

     The Nardone Limited employment attorneys handle a full spectrum of employment law issues, including business disputes and litigation, drafting of employment and restrictive covenants, and consultation on all types of employment law issues. If your business needs advice or representation on an employment dispute before the EEOC, the OCRC, or regarding potential employment litigation, contact one of our employment attorneys. Further, feel free to contact Nardone Limited if you would like more information or consultation regarding any employment law issue.