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Foreign managers? Warn them against age bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Is your organization a subsidiary of an overseas company? If so, you may have to warn managers who are used to a different set of rules that comments about age preference can lead to trouble.

What may seem like just a casual comment could end up being quite serious if it results in an age discrimination lawsuit.

Recent case: Sherry Healy was 58 years old when she took a job as a commissioned salesperson for a company that sold mailing equipment. The company was managed from headquarters in Germany.

When tough economic times dictated trimming the sales force, Healy got the ax. She sued, alleging she had been fired because of her age.

As evidence, she pointed to comments she heard from several German members of the board of directors. One suggested her boss surround himself with “a younger team” so he could act as the “elder statesman.” Another announced that he wanted to hire a new comptroller who was “an angry young man.” Finally, Healy reported that another board member had voiced the belief that if he had two candidates—one age 62 and another age 32—he would hire the younger applicant.

The court said Healy had offered enough evidence of possible age discrimination to take the case to trial. An apparent anti-older-worker attitude might be enough to shoot down the company’s claims Healy was let go for budget reasons, not age. (Healy v. Buhrs America, No. 08-304, DC MN, 2009)

Advice: How should you tell managers they can’t make ageist comments? You may not want to go it alone. With help from your attorney, set up a session for managers who need to learn the rules for doing business legally in the United States.

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