Fear of Age Bias Forcing Younger Workers Out?

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2009-05-26 Print this article Print

It seems no one is safe from layoffs, but fear of age discrimination lawsuits by older workers may be forcing out younger workers, says a recent article at the WSJ.

From the article, which cites recent Labor Depratment figures and labor attorneys:

The unemployment rate for those between the ages of 25 and 34 was 9.6% in April 2009, up from 4.9% a year earlier. For those ages 55 and older, the unemployment rate was 6.2% in April 2009, compared with 3.3% a year earlier....

Gerald Maatman, co-chairman of the class-action litigation practice at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, which represents employers, says he has been fielding more inquiries about laying off younger workers than in years past, especially from companies in states like New Jersey and Michigan that have laws to protect workers as young as 18. Age-discrimination lawsuits brought by older workers can cost more than the salary of the worker who was laid off and can hurt the company's reputation, according to Andria Ryan, partner at Atlanta law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP.

So it's cheaper to keep employees who cost the company more than to risk the potential of lawsuits based on age discrimination from older workers who, if they win, can stick a company for a fair amount of dough and reputational headaches. That makes some sense, but it doesn't give you the whole picture when age bias lawsuits from older workers are actually up.

The safe bet for companies, according to this article, is to have layoffs based on seniority which some companies and institutions employ--a "last one in, first one out" type of arrangement, which may not necessarily be age based, but is seen as the least risky for lawsuits.

The larger reality to me is that in tough times everyone is at risk. When revenue is bad and cost cutting is the mantra, companies will look at individual cases of risk for lawsuit before laying off.

As we learned back in March, age-bias claims and lawsuits are up. From another WSJ article:

Employment lawyers say age discrimination can be hard to prove, particularly these days, when so many people of all ages are getting the ax. Jeff Hynes, a Milwaukee labor lawyer, says "there's always the fine line between what is discrimination, and what is a legitimate business decision."

In the end, it doesn't really matter your age, but rather the approach your specific company takes when it comes to seniority, performance and the potential risks involved in money settlements.

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