Agency joins age discrimination fight

A former drawbridge tender says he was forced out of his job when he hit 80.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 14, 2007

SEMINOLE - Joseph Servedio, who said he was dismissed as a bridge tender because of his age, is getting support from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Servedio said he was forced from his job at the Indian Rocks Drawbridge shortly after his 80th birthday last October and complained to the commission. He said his boss pushed him to retire and offered him a position as an alternate bridge tender, basically a job as a stand-in for absent workers. When he refused to retire, the offer of an alternate position was withdrawn.

In an Aug. 17 letter, the EEOC said it has reasonable cause to believe that Servedio's employers, C&S Building Maintenance Corp. of Gainesville, violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. It says its investigation determined that Servidio - who had worked for the company for 14 years, raising and closing two Pinellas County bridges for passing boats - was discharged and denied the opportunity to work as an alternate because of his age.

The EEOC's Miami office also said Servedio's bosses retaliated when he complained about age discrimination. According to the document provided by Servedio, the EEOC has invited C&S Building Maintenance to settle the matter.

Nitza Wright, spokeswoman for the EEOC's Miami district office, said the agency cannot discuss ongoing cases or even acknowledge that one exists.

Reached by phone at his Gainesville office, Milton Hartman, vice president of C&S Building Maintenance, also refused to discuss the matter.

"It is still under investigation," he said. "It would be unfair for me to make any comments."

In an interview this year, Hartman denied that Servedio had been forced from his job.

"Absolutely not," Hartman said at the time. "He wanted to quit work. I don't know why. We had a retirement party for him. We have numerous people working for us in their 70s and 80s."

Servedio and his wife, Carol, 71, said there had been no party. He said the only thing he got was a card with signatures from a few coworkers. He was initially denied unemployment. He appealed and it was granted, but after about four weeks the money was stopped when C&S Building Maintenance objected. Servedio appealed again and is now receiving $212 every two weeks.

The grandfather of 18 and great-grandfather of 12 says he wants and needs to work.

"We can't live on Social Security money," he said.

"This has really taken a toll on him. A toll not only financially, but physically and emotionally," his wife said. "It's so stressful. That's why some seniors don't bother to go through this."

Servedio said this past year has been demoralizing.

"If I thought I couldn't do my job, I would have retired. I took a test and I passed that. They wanted a doctor's note and I provided that," he said. "I lost nine months of pay. I would like to collect that. Now if they would like to give me my job back, it would have to be the job that I had before."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or 892-2283.