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Metals Company’s In-House Counsel Must Testify in Age Bias Suit

July 26, 2021, 2:34 PM

The in-house counsel for a steel treatment company must testify about conversations he had with an employee suing for age discrimination because the talks weren’t covered by attorney-client privilege, a federal court in Michigan said.

Greg Schankin worked as human resources director for Commercial Steel Treating Corp. and three other companies also owned by HCI Equity Partners. Schankin says he grew concerned Commercial Steel and HCI had fired three employees because of their age.

Schankin alleges the general counsel acknowledged the existence of age discrimination in informal conversations with him. Schankin claims he was himself later fired solely because of his age, 56. He brought claims against Commercial Steel and HCI under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and state law.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on July 23 granted Schankin’s motion to compel deposition testimony from the general counsel about the conversations.

“This is admittedly a complex issue,” but the lawyer’s alleged statements aren’t protected by attorney-client privilege, the court said.

The general counsel had little to no involvement in the terminations that were the subject of discussion, and no evidence indicates the attorney “was prompted to examine this question by the CEO, Board of Directors, or any other authority within the corporation,” the court said. Therefore it can’t be said that the companies were seeking legal advice when Schankin and the lawyer spoke, Judge Terrence G. Berg said.

Sharp Firm represents Schankin. Van Suilichem & Associates PC represents the companies.

The case is Schankin v. Com. Steel Treating Corp., E.D. Mich., No. 2:19-cv-12909, 7/23/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Flood in Washington at bflood@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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