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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Boss Makes Jokes About My Age

Employees who are in the position of working for a supervisor who is younger than they are, and/or being the oldest workers in their department may find themselves being the brunt of ageist jokes. Calling employees, “grandpa,” and “old bastards ”and “like a bag of bones” are among some of the humor or name calling that was alleged in successful employment age discrimination cases. Employees who are among the oldest in their department may find themselves excluded not only from social gatherings with co-employees,  but also from employer sponsored quasi-social meetings and training sessions. While the former is not necessarily indicative of age bias on the part of the employer, the latter may have real consequences for the older employee who not only wants to be retained, but also wants to be promoted, and it could be an indicator of illegal age bias. 

One such case with alleged facts typical of age discrimination plaintiffs was settled August 3, 2016 with the judge dismissing the case August 4, 2016 while preserving the right of either party to reinstate the action within 60 days if the settlement was not consummated. In this age case, an Associate Director of Admissions for Wilkes University alleged in her complaint filed Aug 21, 2015 in the Pennsylvania Middle District Court, Gibson v Wilkes University, that she was subjected to name calling and ageist jokes in a manner that is all too typical in age discrimination cases. Gibson alleged her co-workers ridiculed her regarding her age, one referred to her footwear as “old lady shoes,” another described her as an “old war horse.” She alleged she was excluded from staff meetings and that her employer placed her under increased scrutiny. She was eventually fired in 2013  when she was 65 years of age and substantially older than the rest of her department.

The author of this blog has successfully represented age employment discrimination employees ages in their 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's securing large settlements in both the public and the private sector. 

Age bias is so deeply embedded in our culture, that most people do not recognize it to the same extent as they do other forms of discrimination. This happens in white collar and blue collar positions. Any supermarket's greeting card aisle will typically reveal that the displays have numerous racks of birthday cards that derogatorily  joke about a person's advancing years, containing caricatures of older persons and negative stereotypes, i.e. an older person sitting on a couch in scruffy pajamas that imply he forgot or was too tired to get dressed for the day.  Age may be the only protected category where people in a work environment feel it is acceptable to ridicule one’s age in the delivery of humor, but age is a characteristic that is protected from employment discrimination under state and federal statutes. Persons who feel that they are being pushed out of the workplace because of their age have legal remedies for such discrimination.

Being kept out of the communication loop or not offered training that is offered to younger employees are but two factors that could lead to the employee receiving negative performance evaluations. An employee cannot meet the employer’s reasonable business expectations, when the supervisor assumes the employee is too old to learn new technology, or “too set in his ways” to incorporate new business directives in the company’s model.

According to government statistics, some cases brought to the EEOC that involved ageist stereotypes and name calling which were successfully settled were:

• Hawaii Healthcare Professionals, Inc: (D. Haw.) resolved by Los Angeles District Office. A then-54-year-old office coordinator alleged she was terminated based on age after Defendant's owner ordered a manager to fire charging party because she "looks old, sounds old on the telephone," and is "like a bag of bones."

• Advance Components: (N.D. Tex.) resolved by Dallas District Office - A 64-year-old national sales manager with 20 years of experience with the company, was subjected to ageist comments by Defendant's executive vice president and general manager. Defendant's management repeatedly expressed his preference to hire younger salesmen and referred to charging party as "old fashioned." A day after defendant fired charging party, it hired a man in his 30s. Case settled for $201,000 in monetary damages and injunctive relief.

• Central Freight Lines: (N.D. Tex.) resolved by Dallas District Office - The Commission alleged that a class of employees was discriminated against based on age. The EEOC alleges that Defendant used a reduction-in-force as a ruse to fire eight dockworkers, some of whom had worked at the company for 20 or more years and were approximately 50 years old and older. Defendant subjected this class of workers to names like "grandpa," "old farts" and "old bastards." Eventually, the company replaced the class of workers with younger hires. Case settled for $400,000 in monetary relief and injunctive relief.

• 3M Company: (D. Minn.) resolved by San Francisco District Office - It was alleged that 3M unlawfully laid off hundreds of employees over the age of 45 during a series of reductions in force (RIFs) nationwide. The older employees were denied leadership training and laid off to make way for younger leaders. Case settled for $3 million in monetary relief to approximately 290 former employees and injunctive relief.

Planet Ford: (S.D. Tex.) resolved by Houston District Office - It was alleged the supervisor repeatedly berated the charging parties for being "too old" for the job and "washed up" in the industry. Case settled for $160,000 in monetary relief and injunctive relief.

What You Can do

If you feel your employer is pressuring you to “voluntarily” resign by giving you unfair negative employee performance evaluations, or allowing an ageist work environment which may or may not include ageist jokes and euphemisms, or if you were terminated and believe that your age may have been a factor, do not sit on your rights. It is important to consult with an aggressive attorney who is experienced in these types of matters. If you believe you are being subjected to unlawful workplace discrimination due to your age or any other protected class, please contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Central, Western and Northern NJ to meet with clients.

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