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Even With Age-Bias Suits Tougher, Complaints Are Up

Only a few months ago, the New York Times was reporting that few lawyers will take age discrimination cases, in part because of a new, tougher standard that the U.S. Supreme Court imposed a few years back. But that doesn't mean older workers have stopped filing claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 


Last year, in fact, nearly 23,000 people filed age discrimination claims with the EEOC, an increase of more than 6,000 claims over 2006. Sure, with the aging population and a poor economy, it's reasonable to assume that there are more older Americans in the work force than there were seven years ago. But it's still alarming to know that tens of thousands of older Americans believe their age was the real issue, not their job performance.

Take Rutgers, the public university in New Jersey (yes, the same one that fired its abusive basketball coach a few months back).

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Last week, the Times reported that Richard White, 63, Rutgers' long-time director of career services, was summarily removed from his position after two decades of extremely positive reviews. When a new administrator became involved in the review process, the tenor of the reviews changed from glowing to griping. Soon after that, White was fired.

Something similar happened to three other Rutgers administrators age 60 and over.

One of the plaintiffs in the suit, Dorothy Kerr, 60, said that the administrator, Gregory Jackson, "kept asking us when we were going to retire." As a lawyer who works in academia, I can tell you that's not the kind of statement defense attorneys are excited to learn about.

Rutgers defends itself by pointing out that White's replacement is, at 64, even older.

Many older workers who find themselves out of a job never find an equivalent position. White didn't; he's now working part-time for far less money and inferior benefits. According to the Times, his fellow plaintiffs are in similar positions.

But as Tom Osborne, a senior litigation counsel for AARP Foundation, points out, if cases like White's succeed at trial, other employers may be deterred from discriminating on the basis of age.

And that, of course, offers an added bonus: keeping other complaints and lawsuits from pouring into the system.

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Photo: Mari/istockphoto


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