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Meeting of July 15, 2009 – Age Discrimination in the 21st Century-Barriers to the Employment of Older Workers

Statement of Anna Y. Park
Regional Attorney
Los Angeles District Office

Good Morning Chairman Ishimaru, Vice Chair Griffin, and Commissioner Barker. My name is Anna Park, Regional Attorney for the Los Angeles District Office. Thank you for inviting me here to participate in this important hearing about age discrimination. I am honored to be testifying with Michael Barnes, who will describe his experience to you in a few minutes. I appreciate this opportunity to share some views on the complexity of age discrimination today.

The Los Angeles District Office covers Central and Southern California, Southern Nevada, Hawaii, and other regions in the Pacific, including Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. It has not only a diverse population, but also diverse industries spanning the vast region. Tasked with litigating on behalf of the Commission, we have brought cases under all the statutes we enforce. One of our more challenging responsibilities is litigating under the ADEA.

I am here to discuss EEOC’s suit against Republic Services and to introduce Michael Barnes. Mr. Barnes was a lead man in charge of drivers on shifts when no regular foremen were available. When he was in his 30’s he was privy to managers’ discussions and observed ageist conduct directed at older workers by the company. When he turned 40, he was stripped of his lead position and was forced to pitch—or pick up—trash. He became the subject of the same practices he saw used to weed out older workers. He will talk about what happened to him and others.

Despite the fact that the ADEA was passed over 40 years ago, employers still engage in unfair assumptions about older workers’ productivity and think that replacing them with younger workers will be more cost-effective. Oftentimes, this turns out to be untrue. Stereotyping of older workers seems to continue to be socially acceptable. People who would not dream of making sexually provocative statements or using a racial epithet will think nothing of calling someone “grandpa” or an “old mutt” or “old bag.” We often hear of cases where older workers were not hired because employers assumed that they would not have enough “energy” or that younger workers would bring “fresh new ideas.” The impact of these persistent stereotypes is devastating.

By way of example, in EEOC v. Republic Services, our investigation showed that the employer systematically discriminated against older workers by subjecting them to ongoing harassing comments and terminating them based upon unfair and unfounded discriminatory stereotypes.

Republic Services is the largest waste management company that operates in Nevada. The company systematically discriminated against three classes of older workers: foremen, drivers, and administrators. The EEOC identified approximately 40 men and women who were subjected to ageist comments and conduct, including being subjected to harder working conditions and being fired from their positions only to be replaced by lesser qualified younger workers.

Managers openly made ageist comments. The president of the company referred to older workers as “old man,” made comments such as “When are you going to get your old ass out of here.” Managers openly told older workers that they intended to “clean house” so the workers should retire to keep their pride.

General Managers would openly say, “You guys are getting too old” to do this or “I’m going to get some young blood in here that can handle this” to all the foremen gathered as a group. Other comments included "Hey, old man. When are you going to retire? It's time for you to get out of here" and “Old man, when are you going to retire? You've been here long enough." The recipients were often in their 50’s and 60’s.

Mr. Barnes will tell you about a practice that was called “breaking off.” To understand it, you need to know a little about the jobs of the various people involved in collecting waste. Depending on the type of route, some routes required someone to drive the trash truck while another person “pitched” or picked up the trashcans from the curb. Drivers did both pitching and driving. The company would engage in a practice of designating a younger person to drive and an older person to pitch the trash.

The company brazenly ran newspaper ads and hired younger workers to replace the older workers. While the company told the older workers that the jobs were not needed, ads were being run for their replacements. Interestingly, after years of litigation, the employer advanced a new theory that the terminations were somehow intended to reduce costs. However, the evidence does not support this notion. In fact, the employer actually expended more costs. Because it had to hire more young workers to perform the very duties accomplished by a smaller number of older workers, the company ran up more costs for salary and overtime. Despite the evidence, sadly, the court cut the class down from approximately 40 class members to 21. One of the casualties was Mr. Barnes, who is here today to share with you the experiences he had with age discrimination.

In the end, we thank you for raising awareness of the persistent problem of age discrimination that older workers face. Raising awareness is the first step in ensuring that age stereotypes are not tolerated and treated as a lesser evil.

To those who doubt the impact of age discrimination, I want to close by sharing with you a statement by a charging party in the Republic case, Mr. William Lacy. He was a foreman who dedicated his life to the company. He is also a Purple Heart recipient, having served our country honorably. He couldn’t be here today because he is now very ill. Mr. Lacy was fired only to be replaced by younger men who couldn’t perform all of the tasks that he was performing. The company ended up spending more money to get the same work done that Mr. Lacy had been doing alone. Mr. Lacy’s statement reads: “I served my country, and I served the company with honor, blood, and sweat. I never thought I would be where I am today. I lost my house and my savings. At a time when I should have been looking forward to the fruits of my hard work, I am reminded everyday of the pain and indignation I have to endure because of what the company did to me due to my age. I am left with nothing.”

We are determined to seek justice for him and others. Thank you.