Older Workers and Job Seekers Struggle with Age Discrimination

Older workers face increased age-based employment bias in this bad economy, several studies report. Older Americans are losing their jobs as companies seek to cut costs, and then they are having difficulty finding new employment. Harsh economic conditions for many American workers and businesses have made age discrimination, often seen as an acceptable business consideration, more and more common. It is crucial for older employees, older job seekers, and employment discrimination attorneys to understand the scope of the problem and the rights and remedies set out under the law.

A study released by AARP, the advocacy organization representing the interests of older Americans, shows alarming trends in unemployment among people over the age of 55. As of July 2011, the average length of unemployment for older workers was 52.7 weeks, up from 20.2 weeks in December 2007. In that same three and a half year period, the unemployment rate for older workers increased from 3.2% to 6.9%. While this is less than the overall unemployment rate of 9.1% in July, it may be growing at a faster rate. Of those unemployed older workers, 53.9% of them met the criteria for “long-term unemployed,” meaning they had been out of work but looking for 27 weeks or longer.

The total number of employed persons over the age of 55 has increased since December 2007, from around 26 million to around 29 million. AARP attributes this less to more older workers finding jobs and more to an overall increase in the number of people over the age of 55. In December 2007 there were about 69.6 million people in that age group in the U.S. As of August 2011, that number had increased by 10.5% to 76.9 million as the Baby Boomers get older. An increase of 3 million employed older workers therefore accompanied an increase of 7 million older people.

A recent case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against technology giant 3M demonstrates the issue. The lawsuit alleged that the company laid off hundreds of employees over the age of 45 in violation of federal employment laws. The company allegedly fired older workers, denied training and job advancement to older employees in favor of younger ones, and adopted policies deliberately aimed at developing younger workers to the detriment of older ones. The EEOC’s investigation found an e-mail from the company’s then-CEO directing managers to “tap into the youth as participants in the leadership development.”

The EEOC reported in August that 3M had agreed to settle the lawsuit by paying $3 milllion to a group of roughly 290 former employees and by implementing new policies to prevent age bias in hiring and firing decisions. While 3M’s actions may seem in some ways like prudent business development, favoring younger employees specifically to the detriment of older ones violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. That law protects workers aged 40 or older from discrimination or harassment in the workplace based on their age. New York also has laws preventing age discrimination in employment at both the city and state level.

The New York employment discrimination lawyers at Phillips & Associates protect the right to freedom from discrimination based on their age for employees and job seekers. Contact the firm today at their website or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

Web Resources:

Facts About Age Discrimination, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Employment Situation, August 2011: Older Worker Unemployment Remains Stubbornly High (PDF), AARP Fact Sheet 237, September 2011
More Blog Posts:

Kohl’s Faces Claim of Employment Discrimination Based on Medical Condition, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 27, 2011

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