In 2012, a Maui worker named Debra Moreno was awarded $193,236 in an age discrimination lawsuit. Debra had been laid off by her company after the owner had made comments about her appearance and said that she "sounded old on the phone." Because of the owner's comments, the case was fairly unambiguous. However, in most cases, ageism is a lot harder to prove. Most people with the power to hire and fire won't make blatantly ageist comments out loud or at least not in front of anyone who might repeat them. Age discrimination is usually subtler than that. So how can you tell if you've been fired or downsized because of your age? Take a look at some signs that you may be a victim of age discrimination at work.
Your Position Was Eliminated – But Not Really
Employers will usually look for a legal reason to fire an employee, even if their motivation is ageism. Eliminating a position is one way to get rid of an employee even when there's nothing wrong with that employee's performance or behavior in the workplace. After all, if your position no longer exists, then the company no longer has work for you to do, right?
However, sometimes a company will attempt to get rid of an employee by eliminating their position, only to bring on a new worker to perform the same job duties with a different title. If you've been let go because your position was eliminated, but a younger worker was hired to handle the same responsibilities you handled under a different title, then you may have been eliminated because of your age, rather than any genuine restructuring of the company.
You Can See Patterns in Hiring and Firing
If you suspect that you were or are currently being targeted for termination because of age discrimination or that you have been turned down for a job because of age discrimination, the company's hiring and firing patterns may help you to prove your point. If you can establish a pattern of older workers being laid off and only younger workers being hired, that pattern may confirm your suspicions and bolster your legal claim.
This is a common thread in Silicon Valley, where many of the top tech companies have workforces whose average ages are in their early 30s or even their late 20s. It's no surprise that companies like Facebook and Amazon are the target of lawsuits alleging that they unfairly screen out older workers. Workers will come and go at any company, but if all the workers going out are over the age of 40 and all the workers coming in are in their 20s, there's a chance that the employer is actively avoiding hiring and retaining older workers.
You Feel Pressured to Retire
Only a few professions are allowed to implement mandatory retirement ages. These usually include professions like firefighting or law enforcement, where it's reasonable to believe that advanced age might negatively impact a worker's ability to do a job. In most jobs, mandatory retirement ages are illegal, but some companies try to enforce them anyway.
More often, employees are not told that they absolutely have to retire, but they may experience intense pressure to do so. Companies may offer retirement packages as an incentive to retire, sometimes along with a strong hint that if the employee declines the package because they don't want to retire yet, they'll be fired anyway without the benefit of a retirement package. This can be difficult for a worker to refuse, and if the employer applies enough pressure, it can cross the line into age discrimination.
Without overt statements or actions that blatantly show age discrimination, this kind of discrimination can be tough to prove. It's important to keep that in mind when considering an age discrimination lawsuit. The best way to find out how strong your case may be is to bring the information to an employment age discrimination attorney in your area. Your lawyer will be able to tell you whether you have a case and help you gather evidence to prove it in court.