More than a dozen former General Mills Inc. employees are suing the company claiming age discrimination after they were laid off in 2012.

The Golden Valley-based company laid off about 850 people in June 2012, and more than 400 of those were 40 years or older, said attorney Stephen Snyder of Snyder & Brandt, a Minneapolis law firm representing the 14 former employees suing General Mills. Other former employees could join the collective action suit as it progresses.

"Of those terminated … 83.5 percent were age 40 or more," Snyder said. "And the older you were, the greater your risk of being terminated."

In a prepared statement, General Mills spokeswoman Kirstie Foster said, "The company stands by its employment decisions and sees no merit to these claims."

According to the suit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, General Mills posted notices for open positions in some of the same work groups where employees were being laid off. "General Mills filled many of these open positions with new hires who were younger than the terminated employees who had been performing those jobs."

Some of those who were to be laid off had to train their younger replacements, according to the suit. In one case, a former employee who was 53 years old was replaced with a new hire in his 20s who had been an apprentice of the older man.

"General Mills also failed to consider its employees age 40 or over for employment opportunities, has refused to transfer employees age 40 or over into open positions for which they were qualified, and has refused to rehire its former employees for positions for which they applied and were well qualified," the suit states.

The lawsuit claims the company also disproportionately terminated older workers when it laid off hundreds of employees in December.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788