Federal authorities have filed a lawsuit against the University of Kansas Medical Center on behalf of a whistleblower who objected to age discrimination in the screening of job applicants.
The lawsuit filed Friday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accuses the medical center of firing Jeffrey Thomas in 2014 for lodging an internal complaint. Attempts to settle the complaint fell apart in August.
Thomas supervised the IT desk at KU Med, where Michael Harmelink was the associate vice chancellor for information resources and chief information officer.
"Harmelink made statements to IR managers and directors indicating that they should hire millennials and other younger individuals to fill vacant positions," the lawsuit claims.
Harmelink later said his comments were misunderstood.
"The University of Kansas Medical Center is committed to the inclusion of all members of our campus community and takes very seriously its responsibility to prevent and eliminate discrimination," said spokeswoman Kay Hawes. "The university strives to foster an environment where its employees feel comfortable and are protected when speaking up and reporting complaints of discrimination.”
In September 2014, a hiring manager told Thomas she wasn't allowed to hire an applicant for a junior developer position because the applicant was 60 years old.
Thomas initially reported within the department that he believed the department was engaged in a pattern of age discrimination. He then raised his complaint to KU Med's equal employment opportunity officer, who referred the matter for investigation.
Days after the launch of the investigation, Harmelink announced a staff reorganization. A week later, Harmelink told Thomas his position was being eliminated and that the decision was unrelated to job performance.
The internal investigation concluded the department had discriminated against the job applicant by failing to select her because of her age, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit accuses Harmelink of terminating Thomas' employment because he complained about age discrimination in the department's hiring practices.
The medical center's "unlawful retaliatory actions toward Thomas were intentional, willful, malicious and/or done with reckless disregard for Thomas’s federally protected rights," the lawsuit says.
The EEOC is asking the court to order KU Med to stop discriminating on the basis of age, stop retaliating against those who complain of unlawful practices, and provide back pay and benefits with interest to Thomas.