A recent article in The New York Times got me fired up again about age discrimination in the American workplace, particularly when it comes to hiring and firing practices. I've written about this issue before, providing some links to useful online resources.
The Times article highlights the serious nature of the problem for workers over 50 years old. As the article points out, recent court decisions in age-related anti-discrimination cases have made things harder, not easier, for older workers. It's largely because of the way the federal ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) works, or doesn't work. As usual, when Congress writes a law, it carries with it loopholes -- and there are plenty of them in ADEA. Proving an employer uses age discrimination to hire or fire someone age 50 or over is difficult, and the legal burden is on the individual to pursue a case that can be very costly. What's more, doing so basically blacklists that individual in the job market.
The Times article cites this sobering fact: "More than half of workers over 50 lose longtime jobs before they are ready to retire..." along with this even more sobering fact: "On average, a 54-year-old job hunter will be unemployed for nearly a year." The article also reveals the experiences of some older job-seekers who faced obvious age discrimination. Some of the cases are startling in terms of what older workers are told by prospective employers; one of them reportedly said, "We are not looking for old white guys." Thankfully, that particular employer, a restaurant chain, was sued and agreed to pay a $2.85 million settlement.
The good news is some organizations are starting to fight back against age discrimination, even if individuals cannot afford to do so. According to the Times article, the Communications Workers of America, a union, has filed a lawsuit accusing hundreds of major employers of "systematic age discrimination in hiring based on targeted online advertising." They are looking at the possibility of class-action lawsuits. Still, a recent court ruling demonstrates an uphill battle: The court found that "recruiting practices that have the effect of screening out older applicants — what is known in legal terms as having a “disparate impact” — did not violate the law."
You would think that, with low unemployment and "Help Wanted" signs proliferating that older workers would be welcomed by employers. Sadly, that is not the case.