Articles Posted in Age Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has reported that age discrimination claims have spiked precipitously since 2007. When considered alongside the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to raise the burden of proof that plaintiffs must provide in age discrimination cases, this bump in claims has alarmed many policy analysts.

With the graying of the Baby Boomer generation — according to non-disputed numbers, around 10,000 seniors become eligible for Social Security every weekend — many believe that our society is in some ways reaching a crisis point. Today’s seniors face a difficult economy, more market volatility, slashed retirement funds, and a legal environment in which it is more and more difficult to file successful age discrimination cases.

Moreover, the courts likely only see a fraction of cases that could be brought. Many discouraged seniors — who either don’t get hired, don’t get a due promotion, or get fired unfairly — choose to look for a new job instead of to pursue legal recompense. Likewise, many would-be claimants simply do not have enough support or confidence in their allegations to take matters to court.

On January 22, a protracted age discrimination lawsuit came to a close in California, when 17 Hollywood studios, television networks, and talent agencies agreed to pay out $70 million to a class of television writers over the age of 40 who had alleged violations of the Labor Management Relations Act, the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The talent agency International Creative Management (ICM) settled a related matter in August, 2008 — paying out around $4.5 million in settlement monies to the plaintiffs.

Around two thirds of the $70 million will be paid by insurance companies representing the defendants. 165 members (and settlement classes) will divvy up the money through something called the Fund for the Future, which will be overseen by members of the settlement class to be used for loans and grants to help writers with medical insurance and pensions.

This age discrimination litigation has been keeping lawyers for the networks and studios busy for about a decade. The ruling by the California Superior Court may mark a turning point for the entertainment industry, which only recently resolved a protracted and painful TV and movie writers strike.

It seems like every day in the news we read about new cases of ferociously unfair workplace discrimination in New York, as well as harassment, wage and hour violations, and retaliation. Unfortunately, by the time that independent parties are brought in to resolve workplace frustrations, it is often too late to avoid lawsuits and litigation. But could there be a simpler way to preserve employee rights and protect the business interests of employers?

Perhaps.

One new method has shown startlingly positive results in a number of industries. It can be summed up in single word: Awareness.

New York employment discrimination and retaliation cases drain millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours every year. What about the Big Apple makes some employees particularly vulnerable to being discriminated against on the job?

Here is some speculation:

1. To live well in New York City, one typically needs a lot of money.

While harassment and discrimination in New York workplaces can make the lives of city employees miserable, the Big Apple offers a slew of resources and solutions to aid workers and bosses alike in the ongoing quest for a stress-free, discrimination-free workplace. Here are some New York City specific resources and tools to combat discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the job.

1. Ample free resources exist for members of the New York labor force. For instance, check out:

a. The New York Department of Labor’s workforce website

Here is a brief primer on age discrimination laws in the United States and some facts about how these laws work.

1. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 — also known as the ADEA, this law shields employees and job applicants aged 40 years old and older from being discriminated against in “hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” Not all applicants or employees are protected by this act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency, oversees enforcement of the ADEA.

2. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 — outlaws discrimination ‘on the basis of age in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.’ It applies to people of all ages and does allow certain distinctions and ‘factors other than age’ to be used to make decisions. The Civil Rights Center enforces this act.

The debate over age discrimination in the workplace has reached a boiling point. According to October 6th news reports, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Tom Harkin and other leaders of the Democratic establishment have launched actions intended to overturn a landmark Supreme Court verdict on the subject.

In the June ruling — decided by a razor thin 5-4 margin — the Supreme Court ruled that age discrimination claimants must meet a higher burden of proof than had been required. Previously, if a claimant could demonstrate that his or her age had been a factor in a firing or demotion, then the burden was on the employer to prove that age bias wasn’t the only factor in the decision.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that Congress had never explicitly eased the burdens of plaintiffs in cases involving the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, even though Congress HAD done so with respect to other kinds of employment discrimination cases. Therefore, reasoned the majority, the ruling to expand the burden of plaintiffs in these kinds of cases could be justified, since it did not explicitly violate the intent of lawmakers. (The Democratic committee chairmen pushing the current bill have vehemently disputed this argument.)

According to statistics compiled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), workplace age discrimination is a growing problem. In 2007, the EEOC documented over 19,000 cases – the highest number in a dozen years. In 2008, the number of age discrimination cases jumped again — by more than 5,500 — to 24,582. To help to identify and stop such discrimination at your workplace, here are 6 key tips:

1. Know the law.

Knowledge is power when it comes to defending your rights at work. The 1967 Age Discrimination and Employment Act made it illegal in the United States for employers to discriminate against employees ages 40 and above with respect to benefits, lay-offs, promotions, and hiring.

Attorney Donald Dobkin has sued the University of Illinois for age discrimination in response to the university’s decision to deny him a position on the faculty. The 56 year-old Dobkin, who’s practiced law for over 25 years, heads up Michigan’s biggest independent law firm and boasts impressive credentials, such as a JD from Northwestern University and a CV that includes many publications in leading law journals. Although university officials acknowledged his “impressive academic and professional record,” they opted to hire a person under the age of 40 for the position.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Dobkin has alleged that Iowa’s College of Law has not hired a faculty member over the age of 40 for over a decade. Dobkin seeks remuneration for wages lost as well as an opportunity to take the teaching position at the law school. He filed suit on August 19, 2009 through the US District Court in Davenport, Iowa; as of this writing, it’s unclear precisely how University will respond to the action or to his demands.

Age discrimination is a perennial problem at many academic institutions – in both directions. Younger, non-tenured professors often complain that older faculty — who no longer contribute actively to the research community — can nevertheless maintain their positions due to the tenure system. Conversely, employment discrimination scenarios like the one alleged by Attorney Dobkin can also roil academic institutions.

AT&T, the biggest telecommunications company in the US, has found itself on the business end of an age discrimination lawsuit. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched the suit against AT&T in response to the company’s practice of prohibiting the rehiring of former employees who had opted for early retirement. EEOC attorneys allege that this policy makes it much more difficult for older employees to get rehired.

A spokesman for the EEOC, Louis Graziano, said that AT&T’s policy discriminated against a class of workers that theoretically could number as much as 50,000 (the total number of people who opted for the early retirement program). The actual number of people who might have been discriminated against should be much less than that, however, since only people who subsequently sought to be rehired by AT&T would have been impacted.

After the EEOC filed the suit in US District Court in Manhattan, an AT&T spokesman named Michael Coe responded that the company “makes diversity and inclusion a top priority” and does not tolerate “discrimination of any sort, including that based on age…” Coe did not make any comments regarding the specific allegations of the suit.

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