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Fired at 67, The Former Director of Sales at a Columbia Sussex Owned
 Hotel Wins Age-discrimination Suit; Jury Awards $420,000 in Damages


By Bruce Cadwallader, The Columbus Dispatch, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

August 29, 2009 --A former employee of a national hotel chain who was fired and replaced by two younger women won an age-discrimination lawsuit and more than $420,000 in damages this week.

Charlotte Thomas, who was 67 when she was fired by the Marriott Courtyard Hotel near Hilliard two years ago, found out that her immediate supervisor was told by a company vice president to "fire the old lady in sales," testimony showed.

A Franklin County jury ruled earlier this month that the hotel chain terminated her for no other reason than her age, Columbus attorney Russell Kelm said.

"Charlotte didn't find other work for over six months," Kelm said.

"This was one of the most devastating experiences of my life because I loved the hotel," Thomas said tonight. "It was my second home."

After a week of testimony before a Common Pleas magistrate, jurors awarded Thomas, of Grove City, $140,164 in compensatory damages two weeks ago and $300,000 in punitive damages on Thursday.

The award will be reduced by $20,000 because of caps, Kelm said yesterday. Common Pleas Judge Julie M. Lynch will decide later how much to award in attorney's fees.

Thomas had worked for a Hilton Garden Inn in sales, then the Holiday Inn in Hilliard before that hotel was bought by the privately owned firm of Columbia Sussex Corp. of Crestview Hills, Ky., and turned into the Marriott.

While she worked there, occupancy rates of the hotel doubled and revenues exceeded $1.06 million, according to the lawsuit. Thomas earned bonuses as director of sales before she was fired in September 2007, according to her complaint.

She was told by new management that she was fired because of budget cuts, not because of bad performance.

Thomas recalled her general manager giving her flowers just two weeks before she was fired.

She said that when she was fired, she offered to take a pay cut but was told the decision had been made.

Thomas' replacement was 46 with limited hotel-management experience, according to testimony. Another woman who sat at Thomas' desk was 26. The jury found no liability against the hotel manager, but did find that his boss and the corporation had discriminated against Thomas. Columbia Sussex owns 71 hotels nationwide.

Calls to several jurors were not returned for comment.

Thomas said tonight that she talked to a few jurors after the decision and told them, "this wasn't a win for me. This was a win for anyone who has been wronged by their employer and anyone who is afraid to stand up for what they believe in."

Cleveland attorney Thomas Barnard, representing Columbia Sussex, said his client wants to appeal, in large part due to improper instructions that he believes the jury received. He declined further comment.

Thomas now works in sales for the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Doubletree Avenue, just east of Worthington.

bcadwallader@dispatch.com

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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