The Gross Injustice of Age Discrimination

Jack Gross was 54 years old and a vice president at FBL Financial in 2003 when he saw a memo detailing staffing changes at the Iowa-based insurance company. According to a National Public Radio story on February 15, 2011, Gross was among a dozen employees demoted that day, all his age or older. “The only promotions were people who were basically a generation younger than us,” Gross told NPR.

Gross, however, was the only one to sue his employer for age discrimination. While he won in lower court, the case ended up being appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against him in a 5-4 decision. In its decision, NPR said the court ruled that “a plaintiff must prove, with a preponderance of evidence, that age was the reason for discrimination.” Experts told NPR that the case has increased the burden of proof for age discrimination suits, and hundreds of other cases have been thrown out because of the ruling. “Personally, that’s one of the things that I resent most,” Gross told NPR. “That my name is being associated with so much injustice and unfairness.”

As NPR noted, Gross’ suit coincides with a time when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says age discrimination is becoming a bigger problem. “I think that the number of formal complaints that come in to us understate the nature of the problem,” EEOC commissioner Stuart Ishimaru told NPR. Ishimaru said dismissal or demotion cases like Gross’ are hard enough to prove, but it is even more challenging to figure out how to prosecute age discrimination in hiring. “And frankly in this economy, where people are looking for jobs, they don’t have time to worry about a discrimination suit,” Ishimaru told NPR. “They’re not going to be thinking about this.”

As consultant Steve Tobak put it in a CBS News article published on January 31, 2012, “Never mind that job discrimination of people over 40 is illegal. It’s just really hard to prove, primarily because the salary differential between someone right out of school and someone with 10 to 20 years of experience is likely to be huge and there’s no law against employers hiring less expensive labor to save money.”

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. More specifically, it prohibits discrimination at work in hiring, promotions, wages or termination of employment and layoffs. Even with an increased burden of proof, if you believe you have been subject to age discrimination, you should still contact a Los Angeles employment attorney to discuss your legal options.

Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob – Los Angeles employment lawyers

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