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A Message from Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic

Post from Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic - May 2018

Older Americans Month, 2018

In 2018, we frequently hear encouraging slogans such as "70 is the new 50" (fill in your own favorite numbers as you wish!).  But all too often we see the discouraging reality that being over 40 can be the "new ancient."  It seems in some employment sectors, the assumption is that you can't be "cutting edge" if you're not young - only a dull blade.  And equally disturbing, too many older Americans face discrimination based on these outdated notions with the assumptions understood rather than spoken. 

Last December marked the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  Yet fifty years later, EEOC receives charges of age discrimination on a daily basis, and the need for us to continue to identify and stop age discrimination in the workplace - and obtain justice for its victims - is all too real.  Here are just a few examples of recent cases where EEOC was able to identify and remedy discrimination against older workers:

  • Just yesterday, the EEOC attained a $2.85 million settlement from Seasons 52, a national restaurant chain, for class age discrimination. EEOC alleged workers over 40 were denied front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house positions at thirty-five Seasons 52 restaurants around the country. "We are really looking for someone younger," one manager told applicants.
  • Montrose Memorial Hospital in Colorado agreed to pay $400,000 and furnish other relief to settle an EEOC class age suit. Twenty-nine employees, aged 40 and older, were fired or forced to resign because of age.  Managers made ageist comments, including that younger nurses could "dance around the older nurses" and that they preferred younger and "fresher" nurses.
  • Last year, in one of the largest ADEA settlements ever, Texas Roadhouse, another nationwide restaurant chain, agreed to pay $12 million to settle our class age suit. EEOC alleged that the company denied 40-and-over people a variety of front-of-the-house positions, such as servers, hosts, server assistants and bartenders, for at least eight years. 

And it's not only big class cases that make a difference.  The EEOC continues to fight for the rights of all older workers to be free of discrimination based on age:

  • Diverse Lynx, LLC, a Princeton, N.J.-based IT staffing firm with offices in Princeton and Noida, India, earlier this year agreed to pay $50,000 to an applicant denied a job because of his age. A manager told him, "age will matter." 
  • Professional Endodontics, a Southfield, Mich.-based oral surgery practice, agreed to pay $47,000 for firing a dedicated employee with thirty-seven years of experience four days after her 65th birthday.

Combating age discrimination can present special hurdles for us as an enforcement agency.  Age discrimination can be harder to prove than other forms of discrimination, and in our youth-focused culture, stereotypes that lead to age discrimination are more persistent than many others. Too many supervisors who wouldn't dream of discriminating against anyone because of their race, sex, or religion seem to think it's ok to assume that older workers just don't or can't "get it" when it comes to understanding technology or "thinking outside the box".

We are cautiously optimistic of signs that an increasing number of employers (and society in general) are "getting it" and realizing that discrimination based on someone's age is not only legally but morally wrong.  Let's keep that trend moving forward.  As I said last year during our commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the ADEA, "My wish for the ADEA@50 is for all of us to remember, ability matters - not age." 

Put another way, employment justice is an idea that ages well.