Ex-employee wins lawsuit against city casket firm

By Matthew Dolan
Sun Staff

March 1, 2005

An upholsterer who worked for one of Baltimore's oldest casket companies for almost three decades has won a five-year legal battle to prove he was fired for age discrimination.

On behalf of former casket company employee Frederick W. Kuehnl, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a civil suit against Warfield-Rohr Casket Co. Inc. of Baltimore.

Late Friday night, a federal court jury awarded Kuehnl $397,948.75 in lost wages.

Yesterday, his attorney, Regina M. Andrew, said she is planning to file paperwork seeking additional compensation based on the date the lawsuit was filed.

"It's a significant verdict because it's large, and the jury decided that the age discrimination was willful," Andrew said. "I think it will send a message to employers that the EEOC is out there and we're watching."

Kuehnl, now 61, said yesterday that he was fired in 2000 because his boss told him he was too old for the West Patapsco Avenue company where he had lined casket interiors for more than 29 years.

"Well, it took five years, but it feels good when you know that you were right," said Kuehnl.

Kuehnl kept a journal of his work activities over the years, a key factor, he said, in proving his case.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Baltimore was initially dismissed by U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson. But that ruling was overturned by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and sent back for trial.

Charles S. Hirsch, who represented the casket company, said that he will be filing motions on his client's behalf to throw out the jury verdict and seek a new trial.

The family-owned company was suffering financially and terminated Kuehnl because he wasn't doing his job, Hirsch said.

Warfield-Rohr is a casket maker and funeral supply firm founded in 1870, with operations in Maryland and Delaware.