Age discrimination in the work place is nothing new. Especially in the context of hiring and firing, workplace age discrimination can be described as near ubiquitous. Employers routinely lay off elder workers in far greater numbers than their younger colleagues. Sadly, somewhat less common is an employer being held accountable for their actions. Under the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) employers are prohibited from firing and hiring based on discriminatory age criteria.
The reasons an employer may seek out a younger workforce are many. Sometimes they believe that by bringing in “new blood” they can improve overall company performance. Others might seek to “go younger” for simple economics; younger employees tend to be less experienced and therefore will accept less money. Regardless of the employer’s motivation, the practice is illegal if done with a discriminatory intent. The ADEA provides significant ammunition to fight these practices.
When an older employee is laid off or fired, whatever the purported reason, they owe it to themselves to at least consider the possibility that it wasn’t their “performance,” or the need to eliminate “redundancies,” or any other workplace jargon, that led to their demise. The fact is, legitimate age discrimination claims can be extremely successful. A New Jersey jury recently awarded nearly $11 million dollars to a group of terminated older employees. Of that award, $10 million dollars came in the form of punitive damages. In levying such a large punitive award, it appears the jury found the employer’s conduct to be particularly egregious. Only when employers fully understand that they will be held accountable are they likely to treat older employees in a fair fashion.