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Jury rules against Gross in benchmark age discrimination case


Jack Gross, who has pursued what has been described as a precedent-setting age discrimination case against FBL Financial Group Inc. for the last five years, will keep on fighting after a jury ruled against him last week.

Gross, 62, filed an employment-based age discrimination claim against the company after he was demoted in 2003. His title and responsibilities changed, but not his salary of more than $100,000 a year. FBL has said in court that the change was part of a corporate restructuring.

A federal jury ruled in 2005 that age was a motivating factor in the demotion, but it did not award damages.

That ruling has been appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a ruling last year that many legal observers say has tilted federal age discrimination law in favor of employers.

The case was back in federal district court in Des Moines as a result of those rulings.

Gross would not comment on the court ruling, deferring to his attorneys, but he did say today that he would continue to champion changes in federal age discrimination law. He has testified before Congress.

“We’re still working to get the law changed in Washington,” he said.

Michael Carroll, one of Gross’ attorneys with Babich Goldman P.C., said he believes that jury instructions in the most recent trial were in error and could lead to an appeal.

“We are looking into an appeal of the court instructions under the Iowa civil rights act,” Carroll said. Gross also was represented by Beth Townsend, who initiated the case.

Judge Thomas Shields told the jury that it had to determine whether Gross was demoted, whether age was a motivating factor and whether it was the only reason for the demotion.

Iowa law simply requires a determination that age was a motivating cause of an employment action, Carroll said.

FBL was represented by Nyemaster, Goode, West, Hansell & O’Brien P.C., the state’s largest law firm.

Frank Harty, chair of the firm’s labor and employment department, said the jury ruled last week that FBL did not violate state or federal age discrimination laws.

“Our theory on this case is that it was not about age but about an employee who was very disappointed and couldn’t accept his new leadership and couldn’t hide it,” Harty said.

Click here to read a related Business Record story.

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