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People's Law Guide

 

Age Discrimination: Seniority Becomes A Vice

04/07/12

 AGE DISCRIMINATION: SENIORITY BECOMES A VICE

 
      Carol Moskowitz believed that working for a large corporation would shield her from age discrimination. During most of her three year tenure with Lotus Development Corp., Moskowitz was happy. After numerous promotions, she became a business manager with supervisory responsibilities in an engineering unit at the giant computer software firm. 

      Moskowitz's employment status changed after reaching 50-years-of-age. Lotus eliminated her position. Though Lotus policy guaranteed comparable work at equal pay for employees whose jobs had been eliminated, Moskowitz felt she was being offered only low paying temporary jobs. She filed an age discrimination lawsuit which charged that Lotus weeded out older workers at the same time it aggressively hired younger employees.  

      Moskowitz is far from alone in believing that older persons confront obstacles in keeping jobs and finding new work. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receives thousands of age bias complaints yearly.  And Moskowitz is among many other older workers achieving legal victories against large employers. For example, Southwestern Airlines paid $1.25 million to pilots who complained of age bias. Delta Airlines paid $4.6 million to settle with flight attendants who claimed they were victims of age, gender or racial discrimination. 

      With America's oldest baby boomers well into their fifties now, the “boomers” are having a "pronounced presence" on the aging workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Federal rules addressing age discrimination take on an added importance as workers frequently retire at later ages.
 
      The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a federal law, offers older workers important legal protections. It prohibits employers from considering ages when making employment related decisions such as firing, hiring, transfers, promotions, compensation and lay-offs.

      Employers can't offer "early retirement options" for older workers which are veiled threats of impending terminations. Employers must be careful when seeking to induce older workers with early retirement packages. Employers must provide workers with sufficient time to consider such offers and must adhere to requirements that certain types of information must be disclosed.

      Federal law provides a unique financial remedy to victims of age discrimination. Older workers may seek reimbursement for wages and the value of benefits deprived of them from date of firing through trial. Jurors can award double "back pay" damages when believing that employers made bad faith staffing decisions based upon age. A Florida law prohibiting age bias in the workplace permits employees to also seek money for emotional pain and suffering and punitive damages.

      Employees can also collect on the value of wages and benefits they would have earned well past their trial dates, had they not experienced age bias. These "front pay" awards take into consideration how future earning potential will be impacted by illegal firings or wage reductions. Certified Public Accountants and economists can calculate how "front pay" amounts were harmed by late-career setbacks.  Florida’s Civil Rights Act also permits jurors or judges to award age bias victims with money for emotional pain and suffering and punitive damages.

      When age bias strikes, high level executives can suffer considerable wage loss and may have much to gain by litigation.  For example, when jurors found that Ernst & Young, a major accounting firm, factored age into a decision to fire one of its former partners, they awarded him $3.7 million. 
 
      In her lawsuit against Lotus, Moskowitz's attorneys demonstrated that her co-workers averaged 34-years-of-age and just two percent were older than 50. Her attorneys even placed on the witness stand another former Lotus manager - who was demoted as he approached his 50th birthday but waived his right to sue in return for an $80,000 settlement.
Jurors, impressed with Moskowitz’s case, awarded her $275,000.

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