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Ensure younger employees aren’t ageists

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Have you recently hired or promoted younger applicants into management positions? Do they supervise older employees? If so, be sure to include age discrimination warnings in your training sessions. All too often, younger employees may make statements that older workers interpret as biased.

Take, for example, a young supervisor’s seemingly innocent statement that she has trouble getting older workers to respect her knowledge and expertise. This can be interpreted as the equivalent of stating that the young supervisor doesn’t like working with older individuals. If an older worker is then terminated, that former employee may claim age discrimination and sue.

Recent case: Ann was fired from her job as manager of the accounting department after being informed by her much younger boss that the company was taking a “new strategic direction.” A younger woman with far less experience then replaced Ann.

Ann filed an age discrimination lawsuit.

The company claimed it had fired Ann for performance problems. But Ann told the court that the problems arose after the company owner’s young daughter became her boss and told everyone that she didn’t like working with older people.

The company tried to clarify the statement by explaining that the young manager had merely explained in a staff meeting that she had trouble getting older individuals to take her seriously because she looked too young to hold a supervisory job.

The court didn’t buy that ex­­­planation. It was also suspicious about the shifting discharge reasons and the fact that a younger, less experienced woman replaced Ann. It ordered a trial. (Paulis­sen v. Mei Tech­­nol­­­­ogies, No. H-11-1734, SD TX, 2013)

Final note: Address ageist statements in supervisory training. Younger employees may not realize that it’s a serious matter.

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