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OK to fire older worker despite ageist comments

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It’s never a good idea to talk about older workers as “dinosaurs” or wish for “new blood.” When a boss say things like that, and if the em­­ployee is demoted or fired shortly afterward, the statements can end up being used as direct evidence of age discrimination.

However, that doesn’t mean that employers can never recover from a manager’s foolish comments.

The secret is in allowing time to pass—and making sure that the manager who made the comments isn’t involved in any significant employment decisions affecting the older employee.

Recent case: Oran worked for a public employees’ union regional office in Texas. Oran’s original supervisor was older than he—68 years old to Oran’s 57 years of age.

Oran later alleged that she had made several comments that made him believe the union discriminated against older employees. For example, he said she once asked him if he planned to retire soon and suggested that the union was looking for younger employees to revitalize the organization, rather than “dinosaurs” like them.

Oran didn’t retire, and the supervisor left the union to take another job.

Then, more than three years later, the union decided to reorganize and streamline operations. It concluded that because it had failed to make significant membership inroads in Texas, the office should close. Oran and the only other person working there lost their jobs.

Oran sued, alleging age discrimination. He cited the earlier conversation with his older supervisor.

The court tossed out his case. It reasoned that the manager’s comments, though unfortunate, were made years earlier and that the person who made them had no hand in the termination decision since she had quit before Oran lost his job. (McMichaels v. AFCSME, No. A-13-CA-102, WD TX, 2014)

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