A Jackson County jury rejected a non-profit organization official’s claim that she faced age discrimination and retaliation when she was terminated.
Michelle Comtois was vice president of a drug and alcohol treatment and prevention services provider in the Kansas City area. In 2019, its CEO gave her a disciplinary notice that faulted her as unwilling to compromise, strident and unbending in her views, intimidating to her subordinates and insubordinate to the CEO.
Comtois was given 48 hours to show that she was willing to change her behavior. However, she responded that she hadn’t been provided with specific examples of what she’d done wrong. Instead, the then-46-year-old plaintiff said that she was being subjected to age discrimination, alleging that the CEO’s previous complaints about her high salary indicated an attack on her for her age.
Comtois was terminated a few days later on July 19, 2019. She subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging she’d been the victim of age discrimination and that her firing came in retaliation for having made her complaint.
Steven Schwartz of Brown & James, an attorney for the treatment provider, said in a written description of the case that the claim was a “ruse,” as Comtois had raised her age for the first time in response to the disciplinary notice.
“Plaintiff presented no evidence that the CEO had ever brought up anything about Plaintiff’s age and there was no evidence that Plaintiff was treated differently than younger employees,” Schwartz wrote.
Comtois, represented by attorneys Kevin Baldwin and Eric Vernon, have since asked the court to grant a new trial. They argue in a motion that Schwartz’s closing argument improperly indicated that Comtois had hired counsel and concocted a retaliation claim in anticipation of being fired.
The motion also argues that the judge should have granted Comtois a directed verdict on the retaliation claim, citing a recording of the termination meeting at which the CEO allegedly said she “could hardly imagine going forward” after she’d complained of discrimination.
Venue: Jackson County Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 2016-CV12212/June 6, 2023
Judge: Cory Atkins
Special Damages: $88,000 past lost wages, $15,000 lost benefits, $100,000 lost future wages
Insurer: Philadelphia Insurance Co.
Caption: M. Comtois v. First Call Alcohol/Drug Prevention & Recovery
Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Kevin Baldwin and Eric Vernon, Baldwin & Vernon, Independence
Defendants’ Attorneys: Steven Schwartz and Rebecca Verble, Brown & James, St. Louis