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A Case Study on Age Discrimination

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a fellow Toastmasters member who is a retired teacher from the NYC school system. She mentioned to me that teachers who were older faced a sort of "harassment" until they were retired.

Immediately I knew this was a form of age discrimination and decided to do a little research on this. We all know that age is considered to be one of the "protected" groups in employment, the result of the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) which amended the earlier Civil Rights Act (specifically Title VII). So any form of discrimination against older workers is generally illegal (although we all know there can be exceptions when physical ability is paramount to the job performance, i.e. police officers, military, etc.).

In my research, I found an article about an 80-year old kindergarten teacher named Lillie Leon who was fired in 2011 for what a lawsuit claimed was age and disability discrimination (more specifically, it was due to her inability to escort students to the bathroom - a requirement for kindergarten - since there was no bathroom within the classroom itself and she had difficulty walking). She claimed she was given the kindergarten assignment (as opposed to a preferred 1st grade assignment which did not require bathroom escorts) as a means to force her into retirement.

While I have no more to share on Lillie Leon's specific situation, it got me thinking about potential age discrimination I may have seen at my former job. I noticed over the years that many younger employees were frequently promoted (as many as four times over a period of 6-10 years) while older employees were only promoted once or twice, if at all. While I do not know about the specific performance of these individuals, in my role as a financial systems manager and having to work with many of these people, I figured I was able to gauge the effectiveness of managers and other staff by how well their projects performed financially, how well they work with teams, take instruction, and similar measures. Many of the older managers (the ones who were rarely - if ever - promoted) were long-time employees and were highly effective, while younger managers were more mistake-prone and often neglected vital duties (such as recording, reviewing, and approving time, expenses, and invoices, which is where I got involved).

It's not an exact science, though - some younger managers were very good and a few older managers were not as. But regardless of how managers performed from my perspective, the promotions clearly favored the younger employees, at least within the revenue-generating departments (back office departments had different patterns; for example, information technology seemed to promote people of all ages while the finance department rarely promoted at all). I wish I had collected some hard data to back this up, but I didn't get into organizational psychology and research until after I left.

But anyway, as I begin to dive closely into employee selection and personnel decision practices as part of my coursework for this semester (as well as preparing for my stage 2 exam this summer), discrimination is certainly one area of interest for which I can bring some real-world experience. Expect some more topics in this regard to come out soon.

Be healthy!

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