Harold D. Keane, 47 years old and a $41,000 a year executive at Amtrak's corporate headquarters in Washington, knew what was coming when his supervisor summoned him early one morning in January 1979. After months of what he considered the freeze treatment from the new man on board, Keane was about to face his final humiliation.
"We have to reorganize the department and we don't see any place in it for you," the supervisor told Keane, who began his career with Amtrak in 1975 managing the commissary in the basement of Union Station. So, at the end of the day, Keane packed up his belongings and went home to his wife and three children in Fairfax -- out of a job.
"I wasn't going to let him get away with it," Keane said in a recent interview. And, indeed, he did not.
A U.S. District Court jury here awarded Keane $202,000 in back pay and damages last week after it concluded that he had been a victim of discrimination, one of the fastest growing areas of antidiscrimination law in America.
Not only is age discrimination widespread, "but it is widely accepted by Americans who have rejected discrimination based on race and sex" according to Eleanor Holmes Norton, the head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Since the EEOC took over administration of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 from the Department of Labor in July 1979, there has been a dramatic -- and, officials say, somewhat unexplainable -- increase in the number of complaints of age discrimination brought to that agency.
Norton has said the EEOC expects to receive 8,000 such complaints this year, double rate of complaints received by the Labor Department.
One reason for this sudden increase, Norton said, may be a greater awareness of the protections offered by the Age Discrimination Act.
Keane said that he had felt from the start that his new boss favored the younger people in the office. And when the reorganization came along, Keane said, his responsibilities were given to a man in his late 20s who had been under Keane's supervision.
Amtrak said that Keane's job had been abolished. Sudden unemployment, they argued later, is a risk that comes with a high salary and place in the executive suite.
Keane went to the U.S. District Court in Washington. After a four-day trial there last week, a jury of three men and three women found that Amtrak willfully discriminated against Keane on the basis of his age. Keane's lawyer, Joseph Guerrieri Jr., said he will now ask the court to also order Amtrak to reinstate Keane and pay his legal fees.
"Somebody said they didn't know I was a fighter," said Keane, the seventh son of Irish immigrants and once a student for the priesthood. But, he said, "This was wrong."
At 47, Keane was a young candidate for a complaint under the Age Discrimination Act, which protects people from 40 to 70 years of age. Officials estimate that most successful age discrimination cases are brought by persons in their late 50s and early 60s, Keane's boss was just a year older than Keane.
The average age of the members of the jury that heard Keane's case was 66. Two of the jurors were over 70 years old and five of the six members were retired, according to court records. One juror was almost 30 years older than Keane.
"You just never know with a jury," said Amtrak lawyer David H. Brunner. Considering the age of the jurors, Brunner said there was some thought they might think that Keane "was too young at 47 to feel he was discriminated against because of his age."
Before that jury, Keane spread out his accomplishments and the painful loses that follow when a middle-aged man with a family to support abruptly loses his job. Pride was part of his motivation in pursuing the discrimination claim, Keane said during an interview in his lawyer's office, his thick hands folded in front of him. "I want to be totally vindicated," he said.
"Those were bad times for Amtrak," Brunner said of the circumstance when Keane was dismissed. Amtrak, formally known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp., was undergoing a 20 percent reduction in its personnel force nationwide, Brunner said in an interview, and with that came "a lot of heartache."
During the trial of Keane's case before Judge John Garrett Penn, Amtrak argued that Keane was a victim of circumstance, not age discrimination.
It's like the Reagan transition team moving in on the lame-duck Carter administration, Brunner said. "When a new boss comes in, he's entitled to pick his own team."
Keane's new boss at Amtrak, Harry Yousoof, began his employment at Amtrak in October 1978 as vice president for operations support. Keane, was then the director of budget and administration and under Yousoof's supervision. Keane had responsibility for five managers and a staff of 44 people and once kept tabs on combined budgets of $180 million, according to court records.
Keane's work evaluations, submitted to the court, called his performances superior. One evaluation written in 1977 was complete with a handwritten notation from then Amtrak president Paul Reistrup that said Keane should be "put in a career path -- he's a comer."
But Yousoof said in a sworn deposition that the "chemistry" wasn't there between him and Keene. "Keane would not fit into my scheme of things," Yousoof said in the deposition. "The Peter principle rules," Yousoof said in reference to a popular book, contending that Keane had been promoted beyond his competency.
"Harold was kind of like a tube," said Yousoof, who himself is about a year older than Keane. "What I said to him went through him in totality . . . without [him] sorting it out, breaking down the analysis of what really needed to be done," Yousoof said.
Keane argued in submissions to the court, however, that from the beginning of Yousoof's tenure at Amtrak, Yousoof "demonstrated a clear preference for dealing with younger members" of Keane's own staff and "instilled fear of termination in older members of the organization."
Within a few weeks of his arrival, Keane said in court papers, Yousoof replaced his 56-year-old secretary with a woman in her 20s and later told a 64-year-old special assistant to Amtrak's former president that he was "tired, senile and gutless." Another 61-year-old high-ranking executive was dismissed by Yousoof, but, according to cour records, was later rehired without Yousoof's knowledge.
In January 1979, Keane was told his job was abolished and that there was no longer a place for him at Amtrak. Amtrak lawyers, in court papers, said there were other reasons for Keane's termination, including his alleged lack of management skills needed for the reorganization.
But Guerrieri, Keane's lawyer, argued there was nothing in Amtrak's personnel records to suggest that Keane's performance on the job was anything other than outstanding.
Nevertheless, Keane was about to be out of a job. The same day he was fired he went to the personnel office and said he would take a $6,000-a-year salary cut to $35,000 in hopes of being given another position at Amtrak. Keane said, however, that the personnel officer told him there was nothing available and suggested he go home.
Amtrak kept Keane on its payroll for 90 days, to give him a chance to look for another job. Keane said he got a real estate broker's license, but then got caught up in high mortgage interest rates and never did sell a house. According to court records, he sent letters to top officials of nearly 100 private corporations looking for a job.
In the meantime, he moved his family out of a five-bedroom rented house and into a three-bedroom apartment, sold the family car as well as some furniture, silverware and his wife's jewelry and got rid of the family pets. He fell behind on family financial obligations and realized the embarrassment that come with unemployment.
Last June, while Keane's case was making its way through the federal court, Amtrak underwent yet another reorganization and Yousoof's responsibilities were absorbed into another department, Amtrak lawyer Brunner said. Left without a place at Amtrak, Yousoof took a new job in Connecticut.