A supervisor who makes rude or obnoxious comments about his subordinates’ ages might wind up causing an age discrimination lawsuit. That’s one reason you should take seriously all complaints about inappropriate comments—and discipline supervisors who think age is something to joke about.
The discipline doesn’t have to be severe—just enough to fix the problem and send the message that age-related jokes are wrong in the workplace. A reprimand and some training on age discrimination should be just fine as long as the incidents stop.
Plus, you don’t necessarily have to make the discipline general knowledge. Just make sure you document how you resolved the problem.
Recent case: Janet Wooler worked for Citizens Bank until an audit revealed problems and her sales fell. The bank fired her. She was 52 years old and remembered that her former supervisor had made several age-related comments. He once stated in front of the staff that he and Wooler were too old to remember their 40th birthdays. Later, he asked Wooler whether she had Alzheimer’s disease when she couldn’t find a form.
Unbeknownst to Wooler, the bank had disciplined the supervisor after she complained about his comments. She sued, alleging age discrimination and pointed to the comments as evidence.
The bank said it fired her for legitimate reasons, not age. It also showed the court that it had disciplined the supervisor and that the comments stopped. The court dismissed the case. (Wooler v. Citizens Bank, No. 07-1035, 3rd Cir., 2008)
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