March 12, 2009

Age bias up in worker layoffs

As unemployment rises, so do claims of discrimination. Age-based discrimination claims increased nearly 30 percent in the year ended Sep. 30, according to the Wall Street Journal, compared with a 15 percent increase in discrimination complaints overall.

Despite the increase, older workers account for fewer unemployed workers than those under 40. Unemployment among younger workers is 10 percent, while those 40 or over, the youngest age a worker can claim discrimination, is 6.5 percent. Older workers are also a growing percentage of those who are still employed; approximately 40 percent of workers were over 55 in January, compared with 36 percent in January 2004 and 32 percent in January 2000.

More expensive salaries and benefits may make older workers a target, but the Journal cites Jeff Hynes, a Milwaukee labor lawyer, who says "there's always the fine line between what is discrimination, and what is a legitimate business decision."

The EEOC issues "merit findings" on about 20 percent of age-discrimination cases, which grants reparations to a plaintiff without necessarily giving him his job back. Another 60 percent of plaintiffs are given a "right-to-sue" to take their former employers to civil court.

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