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Former UI administrative assistant claims age discrimination in lawsuit

MOSCOW, Idaho – A former University of Idaho employee claims a “hostile” environment toward older workers on the Moscow campus forced her into early retirement.

Lillian Hatheway, 66, is suing the university in an age discrimination lawsuit filed Wednesday in Latah County District Court. Hatheway was an administrative assistant in the Department of English before she retired Sept. 12 because of what she calls “intolerable working conditions that had placed her health at risk.”

She is seeking more than $10,000 in damages, which includes money that she would have earned had she remained employed at the university, according to court documents.

Attorney Scott Gingras is representing Hatheway in her case against the university and said her performance evaluations went from “outstanding” three years ago to “needs improvement” in 2006. Hatheway received another poor evaluation earlier this year, which made her ineligible for a raise in salary.

“Lillian received great evaluations and all of a sudden the attitude changed and she couldn’t do anything right,” Gingras told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

The university does not comment on current or pending litigation, said university spokeswoman Tania Thompson.

The lawsuit against the university highlights text from a 2006 speech given on campus by former President Tim White.

In a “State of the University” address, White said: “When we get to that point in life where we’re not as productive, where it’ll help the university and our program that we care so deeply about, recruit a young entry-level or midcareer person; (it) is time to get out of the way.”

In her lawsuit, Hatheway also alleges that the chairman of the English department, Kurt Olsson, made disparaging remarks about older workers in 2006 and 2007, as well as expressing a desire to hire “young and energetic” employees.

“Ultimately what she’s seeking for is justification and vindication of her rights – to be heard,” Gingras said.

Two years ago, another former employee filed a similar lawsuit against the university. Isabel Bond, 75, also alleges that she was pressured to retire and given negative performance evaluations. That case is now in pretrial proceedings.