Wronged at Work!
THEY SAID I’M TOO OLD, SO THEY DUMPED ME
By David Graulich, Esq.
“I’m too young to retire….but I’m too old to get a job.”
A dilemma confronts millions of talented Americans. They are smart, experienced and ready to work. Yet they are jobless and unable to get hired due to their age. Many of them worry that they are not only unemployed, but unemployable in a job market that has a fetish for youth.
Age discrimination is a widespread and destructive prejudice in today’s workplace. Job descriptions use code words such as “fun-loving,” “high energy,” or “recent college graduate.” Young, unmarried employees without children are more likely to work weekends, evenings and holidays at lower rates of pay. Employers believe that younger employees will lower the costs of health insurance. Years of experience, maturity and responsibility are perceived not as valuable assets but as excess baggage.
Here’s a comment from Mark Zuckerman, the 28-year-old founder of Facebook: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.” A senior executive at Twitter, Melissa Daimler, told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco that said she couldn’t comment on what older-generation workers want at their jobs because they don’t work at Twitter, nor does Twitter target them for hire. The average age of a Twitter employee, Ms. Daimler said, is 30.
A partner at a prominent venture capital firm in Palo Alto told a conference audience, “People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”
I found similar comments from employers in the court records of recent age discrimination lawsuits:
— A director of sales said that the company needed “race horses, not plow horses,” and that the plaintiff’s sales techniques were unacceptable because they were “old school” and resulted from “a graying of the sales force.”
— The plaintiff was described as an “old geezer” who ““didn’t fit the mold of a young, aggressive type manager.”
— The plaintiff was told that management “was looking for younger, single people” and that “you wouldn’t be happy here in the future.”
Statistics suggest the scope of the prejudice. The state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) tracks discrimination filings by categories. In 2002, DFEH recorded 3,282 complaints of age discrimination. In 2012, DFEH logged 5,605 age discrimination complaints, an increase of 71%.
One discharged employee who fought back in court was Brian Reid, a 52-year-old manager at Google who was fired nine days before Google announced plans to go public. According to his lawsuit, Reid’s supervisors called Reid a “poor cultural fit,” an “old guy” and a “fuddy-duddy” with ideas “too old to matter.”
Mr. Reid sued Google for age discrimination and asserted that his unvested stock options would have been worth at least $45 million if he had stayed there. The case ultimately settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Another case that I’m following closely is being argued in Alameda County. In May 2008, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories fired hundreds of experienced employees, including nuclear weapons scientists, researchers, assistants, and others with long years of service. Earlier this year, a jury awarded a $2.7 million verdict in favor of five ex-employees. The litigation is continuing with about 125 former employees, most aged 40 and over, as plaintiffs.
Both federal and California laws protect employees from age discrimination. The regulations apply to anyone over the age of 40 at the time of the discriminatory conduct, and apply to employers with five or more employees.
The federal law is called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). California’s age discrimination laws are codified in Government Code sections 12940, 12945 and 12945.2. Remember that complaints of discrimination must be filed with DFEH within one year from the date of the discriminatory act. You can file your complaint yourself, or you can retain an attorney to file on your behalf. After filing with DFEH, you can also choose to pursue a private lawsuit against the employer on the basis of age discrimination.
David Graulich, Esq. is an employment lawyer who represents people who have been wronged at work. He helps clients with problems such as discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. David welcomes questions and comments about Wronged at Work! Contact him at David@wrongedatwork.com or (916)966-9600. Disclaimer: This column is not intended, and should not be construed, as an offer of legal advice. Consult a qualified licensed attorney for counsel on a specific legal problem.