Why Older Workers Discrimination Suits are Rising

There’s no doubt about it, age discrimination claims are on the rise. Before exploring reasons for their increase, it helps to know what it is and the laws governing this type of discrimination. Simply put, age discrimination is when an employer treats an employee in another way that is less favorable based on age either in hiring practices or during employment.  

In order to understand and fight age discrimination, employees need to recognize the signs. These signs may be universal from company to company, and possibly combined with other types of discrimination. If an employee suspects age discrimination, documenting instances, dates, and times is very important.

1 – Biased comments, including calling an employee something that is age specific, such as “granny” or “old man.”

2 – The comparisons in type of treatment of older employees to younger ones in equivalent situations. Who is being fired: the older or younger workers?

3 – Unequal discipline between employees for similar situations. Do older employees face consequences for identical actions that younger ones do not?

4 – Promotions given to younger employees although older ones are more qualified.

5 – Favoritism where older workers do not getting good assignments, are barred from important meetings or excluded from socialization with bosses.

6 – Hiring patterns that indicate less-qualified younger applicants receive positions or are hired over older ones.

7 – Pointing out intelligence differences signifying that because of age (ex – a worker turning 50 or 60) their work quality is not less than it once was.

8 – Harassment constitutes employers making a worker so dejected that they end up quitting is the only option; calling them names, and/or making them the butt of jokes.

9 – Where older workers are the same age boss or older, but the employer shows preference to younger workers.

According to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws, employers cannot discriminate in hiring practices based on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older, although this happens too often. The ADEA provides that employers may not qualify age specifications in job notices, advertisements, or on applications, except where there is Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications (BFOQ); discriminate in apprenticeship programs; or deny benefits to older employers, except in instances where benefit reduction is equal for older and younger workers. Within the many titles and agencies, there are wide ranges protecting employees and employers following these laws. They include employers with twenty or more employees in public, private, and government sectors.

Older workers over the age of 50, face increasing difficulties in finding employment. According to http://today.msnbc.msn.com the number of workers filing age discrimination has been steadily rising. In 2006, the number of claims started at 16,000. By 2011, the number rose to 23,000.  The statistics were compiled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Discrimination complaints begin with filing formal complaints, called charges, with the EEOC before they go to the court system. Investigators are assigned to cases and companies against which the cases are filed will be notified. Proving any kind of discrimination is not easy, especially with age discrimination cases. The statute of limitations is the time required in which complaints or lawsuits must be filed. In California the statute of limitations for such complaints ranges from 180 to 300 days, depending on the jurisdiction. Statutes of limitations vary from state to state, so it is wise to check the EEOC site to find out the exact time. After the initial filing, claimants file the Right to Sue Notice, issued by the EEOC, in federal court within 60-90 days.

So, why are age discrimination claims on the rise? It depends on employer, types of employment, and personalities of top management. With more workers staying employed past the age of 50 or older, employers seek to drive them out so they can hire younger workers. Erroneous perceptions are based older workers’ production, proximity to retirement, and job performance. If older worker leave companies before a certain age or time, the employer does have to pay for benefits or pensions. Although older workers are more valuable in experience and knowledge, employers seek younger ones having up-to-date knowledge from recent education or training. This way, employers do not have to retrain current older workers at company expense. Older workers seek promotions where they aim for higher or top positions within companies, requiring higher salaries. New employees can be hired in at less competitive salaries.

However, the most important reason lies in the economy. According to Laurie McCann, a senior attorney at AARP, “When the economy tanks, you definitely see age discrimination suits go up.”

These suits are not easy to prove and equally as easy to win, although cases are won. One example of a victorious age discrimination case is the case of Gloria Parks, published in an Ohio newspaper on February 17, 2011. Ms Parks was employed by Cleveland’s University Hospitals Case Medical Center as a phlebotomist, and had an excellent reputation during the thirty years of her employment. That changed when a mix-up occurred when two patients with the same name were admitted at the hospital at the same time. The phlebotomist received the wrong patient chart from intake, where a younger worker was employed. In fact, according to the patient, she was passed through three other employees before she arrived to have her blood taken. Fortunately, no harm was done to either patient and the mistake was discovered in time. Her claim stemmed from the fact that both she and the younger employee were involved in the same incident; however, only Parks was fired, while the younger employee received no reprimand from it. In addition, Parks had a “Do Not Rehire” notation put in her record. The jury awarded Gloria Parks $900,000 – half for compensatory damages and half for economic loss.