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Ban all supervisor comments about workers’ ages

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s something to include in your regular supervisory training sessions: Remind everyone that they should banish from their vocabularies any slang or colorful terminology that hints at age discrimination.

“Ageisms” can make legitimate business decisions like altered compensation plans, new job duties and other necessary changes look like pretexts for getting rid of older workers.

Recent case: Francis McCaskey and two other California State Automobile Association employees had worked for the group since the late 1960s and early ’70s when they were young men. They sold insurance and were paid based on new sales and renewals of earlier sales.

That meant that as they grew older, their incomes continued to increase even if they sold fewer policies, as long as they hit minimum sales quotas each year. Those quotas decreased with length of service. Then the association stopped lowering the quotas.

The men sued, alleging that the real reason behind the change was age discrimination. They said it was really an attempt to get older agents to quit, thus cutting off liability for commissions based on previous sales.

The court heard damning testimony about the association. Managers were quoted as seeking to change the policy as a way to make it “harder for the older reps to survive because the company doesn’t want to pay them their renewals.” Executives were heard wanting “new blood,” and one was overheard saying he wanted to get rid of “old slugs.” Another has said the older agents were “living on their renewals.”

That was enough to make the court suspicious that age discrimination was the real reason for the change. It ordered a trial. (McCaskey, et al., v. California State Automobile Association, et al., No. H032186, Court of Appeal of California, 6th Appellate Division, 2010)

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