Suppose you believe that your employer has discriminated against you because of your age. After thinking it over, perhaps you decide to sue. You file your claim. And then you wait.
And wait. And wait.
People who seek redress through the justice system in this country often come up against a difficult reality: The courts are overloaded. Claims move slowly. Cases drag on for years.
Such is the case for a lawsuit brought by AARP Foundation Litigation against Allstate Insurance Co. on behalf of about 6,200 older employee-agents (more than 90 percent of them were over 40).
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The case was originally filed in August 2001. Now, after nearly 13 years, it's finally moving forward.
Here's what happened.
In July 2000, Allstate terminated almost all of its employee-agents and advised that they could come back to work as independent contractors, drawing paychecks but not receiving any of their previous employee benefits - including health insurance and continued participation in the company's retirement and pension plans. As part of the deal, they had to sign a release of all claims arising from their forced terminations.
A year later, with the help of AARP's litigation arm, 31 plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Allstate as a "representative action," or one filed by a few people on behalf of many with the same legal problem. The case languished for several years until it was transferred three years ago to U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter in Pennsylvania. After taking several months to review the voluminous facts in the case, Buckwalter decided that the key to deciding whether the case could proceed was whether the releases signed by the former employee-agents were binding.
In April 2013, both sides filed legal motions on the validity of the releases. The 31 plaintiffs argued that they were invalid and that their case should proceed; Allstate argued that the releases were valid and that the case should be dismissed.
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On Feb. 27, in a 156-page opinion, Buckwalter denied both motions and ordered that the case proceed to trial so that a jury can decide the validity of the releases.
Three of the 31 named plaintiffs have died in the years since the case was filed, and several are in poor health.
"We're pleased that Judge Buckwalter's decision has at last cleared the way toward a trial - and, hopefully, justice for these older workers," says Tom Osborne, a senior attorney with AARP Litigation Foundation.
With the 13-year legal logjam has been broken, a trial date will be set. Will justice move faster now?
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