Warn managers: No statements even remotely suggesting bias against older workers

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Age bias has no place in the workplace, and managers are primarily in charge of preventing it. Warn them against making any statements that may indicate management or your organization prefers younger employees to older ones.

As the following case shows, even one careless statement can lead to litigation—and all the costs associated with it. That’s true even if the employer ultimately wins.

Recent case:
Judy John, who is over age 40, worked as a contract employee at New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Communications. Her official employer was another city agency. John was terminated when the contract expired.

Eventually several other contract workers were rehired, but John was not. She blamed age discrimination, since all the rehired workers were younger than 40. John sued after she remembered a supervisor had once said that employees “should learn and then move on.” She took this to mean that older workers were unwelcome.

The court said John was trying to turn an isolated and age neutral remark into direct evidence of age discrimination. Since the statement could have applied to employees of any age, the court rejected her interpretation and dismissed the lawsuit. (John v. Department of Information Technology and Communications, et al., No. 06-Civ-13119, SD NY, 2008)

Final note: Even though the employer won the case, it incurred costs—both in lost time and direct legal expenses. If the manager had never made the statement, there would have been no lawsuit.

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