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The Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant is seen in Chattanooga, Tenn., in this 2016 staff file photo.

A collective action complaint filed Friday against Volkswagen alleges the company engaged in companywide age discrimination against employees over the age of 50.

The complaint, filed in federal court, comes after a June 2017 news release announcing the company would be making management changes to reduce the size and age of its staff by implementing a "partial early retirement scheme for employees born between 1955 and 1960."

"We are becoming slimmer, leaner and younger," Volkswagen AG Chief Executive Dr. Herbert Diess said in the 2017 statement. "This will make Volkswagen faster and more efficient at the same time as providing new motivation for junior managers."

In the complaint filed Friday, plaintiff Jonathan Manlove, 60, is bringing the suit on behalf of himself and similarly situated U.S. employees of Volkswagen AG and its subsidiaries, according to a news release from his legal team.

"Volkswagen's actions — publicly directed by German parent company Volkswagen AG — indisputably violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Tennessee Human Rights Act," according to the complaint.

Manlove is a former supervisor in Volkswagen's Chattanooga auto manufacturing facility. Three days after the company issued the 2017 news release, he was informed by human resources that he would be demoted from assistant manager to supervisor, the position he had when he joined the company in 2011, the complaint alleges. He was also transferred "on loan" to a position in a different department.

A human resources representative told Manlove he had one year to find a new assistant manager position within Volkswagen or his salary would be reduced, and his demotion and "on loan" status would become permanent, which could result in the loss of his company car.

But he was allegedly prevented from applying for any promotions, despite his manager recommending him for a promotion after a performance evaluation, according to the complaint.

Human resources reviews each performance evaluation and issues a final evaluation. The complaint alleges Manlove's assignment of "vertical" advancement status was changed to a "remain in position," preventing him from applying for any other position within the company for the next year.

A human resource representative later told Manlove that his advancement status had been entered in error, the complaint alleges. And while the company claimed to change his status to vertical, he was assigned a three-year status of "remain in position," meaning he is still ineligible for a promotion.

A Volkswagen representative declined to comment Friday, noting the company cannot comment on pending litigation.

"The clock is ticking for Jonathan, and his efforts to undo his discriminatory demotion have not been successful," Leigh Anne St. Charles, a member of Manlove's legal team, said in a statement. "No monetary compensation is at stake for him or members of the class. He is a talented American auto worker who simply wants to continue performing the work at VW he is most capable of doing at a salary commensurate with his considerable training, skills, and experience."

The complaint requests a jury trial and seeks injunctive relief for Manlove and others like him, including preventing Volkswagen from making his demotion permanent, requiring the company to restore his former title and work responsibilities, and preventing Volkswagen from discriminating against other older workers in the future.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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