Articles Posted in Age Discrimination

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, July 21 that a claim brought by a former Catholic school employee (Wendy Ostlund) for age discrimination was not valid due to the fact that she had worked at a religious institution.

The court overturned the rulings of two lower courts by a razor sharp verdict of 4 to 3. The lower courts sided with Ostlund, who claimed that she had been terminated illegally during a 2002 downsizing.

The claimant’s attorney expressed dismay at the ruling, claiming that the Supreme Court ignored a wealth of precedence that seemed to support the view that religious institutions must abide by fair employment practices for positions that are not ministerial and that are largely secular in nature. A Justice speaking for the Supreme Court’s majority disagreed, pointing to Wisconsin’s Free Exercise and Freedom of Conscious clauses; he suggested that these laws allow certain religious organizations exemption from some employment discrimination claims.

The U.S Supreme Court decided the age discrimination case of Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc on Thursday with a five to four ruling in favor of the defendant. The majority opinion of the Court ruled that claimants in age discrimination cases must show direct evidence that their age played a significant role in their employers’ decisions.

Speaking for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote: “even if age can be proven to be a partially motivating factor for a business’s decision, age discrimination claimants must meet a higher burden of persuasion.” Speaking for the minority, Justice John Stevens suggested that the majority was essentially attempting to legislate from the bench by disregarding a 1991 amendment to federal civil rights laws.

Facts of the Case

An employment discrimination case with potentially profound implications for the state of Indiana has taken a new twist. For the past 5 years, Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis’s largest employer (12,000 employees in the state and many more thousands elsewhere around the country) has been dogged by workplace discrimination allegations. On Tuesday, June 9th, the NAACP asked a presiding federal judge to grant class action status to more than one hundred current and past Lilly employees who claim they’ve been victims of racial discrimination.

Retaliation or Appropriate Termination?

The legal battle began in 2004, when a woman named Cassandra Welch complained to the company’s HR department about harassment. According to Ms. Welch’s account, the company did not respond appropriately. Ms. Welch subsequently found a black doll with a noose around its neck at work, and she was later fired in retaliation for complaining. The company has denied firing Welch for retaliation and has insisted that she was let go because she forged emails.

A former fashion director at the men’s magazine Playboy has filed a high-profile suit against his former employer in Manhattan Supreme Court, seeking damages of $4 million for age and sex discrimination. The plaintiff, a man named Joseph DeAcetis, alleges that his boss, the director of Playboy’s editorial section, teased and criticized him for his “old” appearance and sexual orientation. Among the slights alleged:

•    The director made fun of DeAcetis for liking baseball, claiming that baseball is not a sport that “girls” typically enjoy.

•    After DeAcetis did an interview on a local TV station to plug Playboy, he returned to the office to suffer an avalanche of abuse from his boss, who said he looked “old” on TV and that his “gray hair” was off-putting and projected the wrong attitude for the brand.

Older Americans (55 years plus) have historically often found themselves at disadvantage on the job market. Not only must older Americans contend with age related job discrimination, but they also have less time to wrangle with retirement related financial concerns. In addition, given that the U.S. boasts such a youth centric culture, elderly Americans often find it difficult to navigate the cultural mores of the modern workplace.

Experts in the field of work discrimination fear that more and more elderly Americans will find themselves out of work, out of place, and out of luck because of the increasing role that technology has been playing in shaping business processes. In the past five years, for instance, the world of e-commerce and social networking has exploded. YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace may seem unfamiliar to members of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” Technologies like Twitter, RSS, and Skype, moreover, may seem utterly foreign.

Even more discouraging is the fact that employers and clients seem to be leaning on these technologies and communication modes more and more. A “hot to trot” 34 year old boss at a telecom company may be loathe to even consider résumés of applicants who are older than 50 just because she may fear that they won’t possess an adequate understanding of the cultural business landscape.

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