A job applicant with over 20 years’ experience in the restaurant industry was turned down for a general manager’s position at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant, in Boca Raton, because they wanted to “maximize longevity and minimize premature resignations.”
“Maximize longevity?” That’s just another way to say they didn’t want to hire a 59-year-old qualified candidate because of his age, according to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit, alleging the restaurant chain violated the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA).
“The ADEA was put in place precisely to protect people against this type of conduct, Robert Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami District Office, said in a statement. “The bustling hospitality industry needs to be reflective of all of the members of our community.”
ADEA turns 50
This year is the 50th anniversary of the ADEA and the EEOC has made eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring one of its priorities in its Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2017-2021. Under the ADEA, workers and job applicants age 40 and over are protected from discrimination in all aspects of employment – hiring, firing, layoffs, pay, benefits, training, promotions, demotions and performance reviews.
Age discrimination, unfortunately, remains on the menu for many organizations. For example, earlier this year, Texas Roadhouse agreed to pay $12 million to settle an EEOC lawsuit alleging the restaurant chain discriminated against older applicants for front-of-the-house positions, including servers, hosts and bartenders. Other pending age discrimination cases involve Pricewaterhouse Coopers and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.
“Research shows that pervasive stereotypes about older workers still persist – for example, there are widespread stereotypes that older workers are less motivated, flexible, or trusting and that a younger workforce is preferable,” said Phoenix District EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill, in a statement announcing an age discrimination lawsuit against a hospital. “These stereotypes are flatly untrue and must be recognized for what they are – prejudice and false assumptions.”
In fiscal year 2016, the EEOC received 20,857 charges of age discrimination – nearly 23 percent of all charges filed and up from 20,144 in 2015. This number is low since many older workers never formally make a claim. According to a 2013 AARP study, almost two in three workers between 45 and 74 reported they experienced age discrimination at work.
While workers continue to be the target of age discrimination, both subtle and blatant, successful organizations recognize the value of older workers and the experience and commitment they bring to the workforce.
Some essential ingredients for preventing age discrimination include:
- Anti-discrimination and harassment training for all employees, managers and supervisors
- Making sure diversity and inclusion programs and training address age discrimination
- Following through on complaints of age discrimination or harassment, so they don’t escalate into a hostile work environment
- Avoiding code words in job postings and advertisements, such as “young, energetic company” and “two to three years’ experience”
- Staying up to date on local and state laws and policies, which may differ from federal law. For example, while the ADEA applies to businesses with 20 employees or more, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act applies to employers with at least five workers.