Now Hear This: Comments About Hearing Loss Are Evidence of Age Bias

By Eric B. Meyer

It is unlawful under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act “to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.”

An employee who alleges that she was fired in violation of the ADEA has a tough time prevailing because she must demonstrate not that “age was a reason” behind the termination decision, but rather that “age was the reason.”

In a recent decision, a federal court in Mississippi allowed a plaintiff, a former beauty supply company employee who suffered from hearing loss, to take her age discrimination claims to trial because she had presented evidence that that her manager made remarks such as, “Yeah, that’s what happens when you get old.”

No place for ageist comments

The plaintiff also testified that her manager mentioned the need for “new blood in the area,” and otherwise questioned why the plaintiff had not retired because “she was old enough to.”

Additionally, the plaintiff was able to demonstrate that one of the company’s legitimate business reasons for terminating her, because she supposedly allowed her husband and sister (neither of whom worked for the company) to perform company work for her, was pretextual. One of the plaintiff’s co-workers was not fired for allegedly doing the same thing and testified that the supervisor was OK with it.

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Ultimately, even if the company prevails at trial, it is going to have to pay its legal counsel a lot more money to obtain that result.

Learn from this. Train employees and managers that ageist (and other similar comments), even if meant in jest, have no place in the workplace.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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