Workplace Ageism

March, 2020


As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, statistics reveal that about 35 percent of the U.S. population is now age 50 or older.  In Connecticut, one of four workers are aged 55 and older.

In 2018, the AARP published a survey that found that:

  • About 3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace;
  • 76 percent of these workers see age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job;
  • More than half of older workers are prematurely pushed out of jobs, and 90 percent never earn as much again.

Like other biases and discriminatory practices, ageism takes many forms.  In the workplace, it appears in three main areas:

  • Recruitment and hiring, when younger applicants are shown favor simply due to their age;
  • On-the-job bias, when older workers get fewer training opportunities, promotions or rewards, or are harassed;
  • Termination, when a company “freshens” its workplace or trims its budget by targeting senior employees.

Many companies view their workforce the same way they view capital equipment.  You buy it, you assume it has a certain shelf life, then you replace it with a new model.

The nation’s key federal law to combat age discrimination, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), was essentially defanged by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.  Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167 (2009).  There, the Court ruled that in order to prove age discrimination, one must show that age was the determining factor.  In other words, even if you prove that your employer intentionally discriminated against you, if age was not the most important factor in the actions it took, you do not have a case.

Connecticut response to combatting discrimination in the workplace through screening questions on applications for employment is more progressive.  In 2016, the Connecticut legislature passed a “ban-the-box” bill barring questions about criminal history.  In 2018, they barred application questions about pay history.  This year, a bill was introduced to prohibit employers from requiring prospective employees to list their age, birth date or graduation year on an application.  Although this age-discrimination bill cleared the Labor and Public Employees Committee, it did not come to a vote in either chamber.

If you suspect age discrimination at the workplace, you should:

  • Talk with a supervisor.  Sometimes, the issues can be addressed in an informal conversation.
  • Keep a log.  Document comments and actions that you believe were driven by discrimination and keep any records, such as emails.  But don’t record conversations without the other party’s consent.
  • Lodge a complaint with the company.  Go through the organization’s formal complaint process, usually human resources, if talks don’t resolve anything.  Make sure your concerns and observations are in writing.
  • SEE AN EMPLOYMENT ATTORNEY, especially one who belongs to Connecticut chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association, (NELA).

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