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Grand Forks woman sues Job Service for age bias

BISMARCK -- A Grand Forks woman has sued North Dakota Job Service for age discrimination, saying she was wrongly passed over for a job with the agency in 2005.


BISMARCK -- A Grand Forks woman has sued North Dakota Job Service for age discrimination, saying she was wrongly passed over for a job with the agency in 2005.

Fern J. Wanke, 67, filed the case last month in U.S. District Court in Grand Forks after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined in May that its investigation "establishes reasonable cause to believe (Wanke's) age was a factor in" her not being hired.

Wanke also names three Job Service employees at the Grand Forks office as defendants.

Job Service's answer says Wanke's age had nothing to do with why she was not hired, that the agency and its employees are immune to lawsuit, and that the individual employees can't be sued in any case. It also says the suit was improperly served and that Wanke failed to mitigate her damages.

Job Service notes that at the time of the complaint, of 23 people in the Grand Forks Job Service office, 12 were 55 or older.


The agency wants the suit dismissed.

Wanke was 63 when she applied to be a customer service representative at the Grand Forks Job Service office after several weeks of a training program for seniors known as Experience Works, also located at Job Service, according to her suit.

She alleges she was one of eight finalists for the job and that she was ranked second after the finalists were interviewed. She said that after the No. 1 candidate declined a job offer, Job Service re-interviewed four finalists -- including Wanke -- instead of offering her the job. The supervisors then offered it to someone else younger than 30. The job started at $22,000 a year.

Job Service agrees Wanke was ranked second after the first interviews but that interviewers relied too much on personal emotions instead of her job skills, and that was why finalists were re-interviewed. The woman who got the job scored 33 to Wanke's 19.

The agency also says Wanke was twice offered jobs with the agency after she filed a state Labor Department complaint. State Job Service Director Maren Daley wrote a letter Wanke never responded to and later she was again offered a job during the Labor Department's mediation process, which she declined, Job Service says.

Two of the Job Service employees named as defendants, Andrew Gleich and Tom Fetsch, later received written reprimands for procedural and documentation lapses during the hiring process. The third employee Wanke names in the suit is Larry Anderson.

The state Labor Department transferred the case to the federal EEOC at Wanke's request.

Wanke seeks no less than $75,000 each for compensatory damages, actual damages and special (punitive) damages, plus costs. For the Labor Department investigation, Wanke alleged that if she had worked at Job Service for 10 years starting in 2005, she would have accumulated $457,000 worth of wages, retirement benefits, sick leave, health insurance and interest.


Janell Cole writes for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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