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Women sue Colonial Williamsburg for age discrimination after ‘reduction in force’ firings in 2016

Two women have filed lawsuits against Colonial Williamsburg, alleging they were fired because of their age. (Steve Roberts, Jr./WYDaily)
Two women have filed lawsuits against Colonial Williamsburg, alleging they were fired because of their age. (WYDaily/File photo)

Two former Colonial Williamsburg employees are suing the nonprofit foundation, claiming they were fired because of their age.

Rene Hutton, 56, and Patricia Ferguson, 59, filed civil complaints of age discrimination against their former employer in federal court earlier this month, on May 7 and May 15, respectively.

Both women allege Colonial Williamsburg fired them during a “reduction in force” at the nonprofit on Jan. 21, 2016, the case complaints state. Following their termination, the women say their responsibilities were taken up by younger employees in their 30s and 40s.

Ferguson worked in the communications department since 2013 and Hutton worked in the group interpretation department since 1993.

The complaints state the two women have suffered damages including “loss of past and future income and fringe benefits, loss of professional reputation, mental anxiety and emotional distress.”

Both women are represented by Todd Gaynor, who did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.

Colonial Williamsburg spokesman Joseph Straw declined to comment on either case, and said the foundation does not comment on pending litigation.

According to the civil complaints, both Ferguson and Hutton filed claims of discrimination with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on Aug. 6, 2016. They both received right-to-sue letters after the EEOC “failed to resolve the claim.”

“At the time of Hutton’s firing, [Colonial Williamsburg] was undergoing a change of its governing philosophy — focusing less on historical lessons and more on entertaining the public,” the complaint filed by Hotton reads. “Underscoring this change in governing philosophy was the fact that at the time of Hutton’s firing, [Colonial Williamsburg] maintained many younger comparator co-workers of Hutton with much less seniority and experience.”

Both complaints, which share similar wording throughout, state Colonial Williamsburg began participating in job fairs aimed at hiring younger people who were recent graduates.

“CWF expressly announced plans to fill 250 newly opened positions in or about May 2016,” the complaint reads.

The complaints allege that Colonial Williamsburg also fired other older employees at a “precipitous rate” — including three other employees in their 50s — then hired people in their 30s to fill their positions.

The lawsuits demand jury trials and several forms of financial relief, including back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and court costs.


Fearing can be reached at sarah.f@localvoicemedia.com.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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