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Age Discrimination Claims on the Rise

Updated on April 9, 2012

Claims made under federal age discrimination laws are on the rise. The most recent statistics from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) indicate a 28.7% increase in age discrimination claims in 2008 from the year before. In fact, a record 24,582 claims were filed against employers in 2008. There are three primary reasons for the recent rise in claims: an aging workforce, the recent economic downturn, and pervasive workplace age stereotypes.

The first reason is the rise of an aging workforce. Increases in life expectancy have led to an increasing population of American workers over 40. In 1996, the median age of American workers was 40. Today, half of all American workers are 45 or older. Furthermore, the median worker age is expected to continue to rise due to the extension in the full retirement age for Social Security benefits, improved health of older persons, and limited retirement savings. Experts have projected that the American population aged 65 to 74 is projected to grow 74% between 1990 and 2020, while the population under 65 will grow by only 24%. As the population inevitably continues to age, the potential for age discrimination increases as well.

The recent economic recession has also had a hand in the rise of age discrimination claims. The current financial crisis and stiff competition has forced many companies to drastically down-size. Since older workers have seniority and typically earn more than their younger counterparts, they run the greatest risk of falling victim to the proverbial ax. The mass layoffs caused by drastic downsizing have lead to a significant increase in the number of age discrimination lawsuits. Unfortunately, with the graying of the workforce and a continued recession, it can be expected that age discrimination claims will continue to increase.

The final and most significant reason why age discrimination still persists is pervasive workplace stereotypes. The perpetuation of ageism in the workplace can be directly attributed to age stereotypes. The most common misconceptions about older workers include resistance to change, technological ignorance, and lack of energy and flexibility.

In their extensive 2009 study on age stereotypes in the workplace, Richard A. Posthuma and Michael A. Campion identified the five most common negative stereotypes about older workers. They include poor performance, resistance to change, lower ability to learn, shorter tenure, and more costly. The study, which consisted of 24,219 people with varying occupation, found that performance actually improves with age and tenure since the person gains more experience in their occupation. They study also determined that while there is some evidence to suggest that salaries of older workers may be higher than those of younger workers, other factors such as lower levels of absenteeism among older workers may offset these salary differentials. In sum, the study found that most age stereotypes are simply inaccurate.

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    • Blawger profile image
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      Bahin Ameri 6 years ago from California

      Thank you for your kind words. I'm sorry I wasn't able to give you a more specific answer. Your comments and questions are always welcome.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 6 years ago

      Thank you for your response. I commend you for your clear and straightforward answers. I have talked to a lot of lawyers over the years. Some could not tell you good morning without first checking the statutes to determine when morning actually began and if there was any language in the statutes that separated good mornings from bad mornings. I agree with you. I did make the best choice--maybe not the choice I wanted to make--discovery could had been a lot of fun, since the bylaws were violated in a number of ways. My termination took action by the board. All actions by the board has to be included in the minutes which are prepared and attested to by the secretary. I was the secretary. Even if they remove me, they would have to have a vote in my presence, so I could record it. Nitpicking--I know, but interesting.

    • Blawger profile image
      Author

      Bahin Ameri 6 years ago from California

      Larry, thank you for sharing your experience with age discrimination. As you mentioned, it can take several years for an age discrimination claim to make it through the court system, especially when you factor in appeals. This is mostly due to congested court dockets and the lengthy discovery process. The settlement amount is usually only backpay (this includes lost wages and benefits) and attorneys’ fees, but in some cases the court may also award the plaintiff liquidated damages (two times the amount of backpay). The best course of action for both parties is settling out of court. In this way the employee is compensated quickly and the employer avoids the embarrassment of facing an age discrimination claim. You definitely choose the best course of action.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 6 years ago

      Blawger:

      I would be interested in your opinion regarding the probability of a person winning an age discrimination suit against the company that fires him. Particularly, if the dismissed person received a generous settlement, say one year's pay, provided he does not sue. If he does not, he walks away with a year's pay. If he sues, and wins, how many years before the average case makes it through the court system and what kind of settlement can he expect. I know you cannot give specific, I am just looking at ball parks numbers. By the way, I was faced with that option and took the money. I figured I would be in court for three years at a minimum and because I was not the oldest person in the office, I did have a chance of losing. I know labor law is not your specialty, but just wanted another opinion. My lawyer advised me to take the settlement and I agreed that was the best course of action.

    • Blawger profile image
      Author

      Bahin Ameri 6 years ago from California

      Megni, thank you for reading and leaving a comment.

    • megni profile image

      megni 6 years ago

      Good advice. Thanks for sharing

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