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Age Discrimination Affecting More in the Workplace

As baby boomers continue in the workforce in their 50s, 60s and even 70s, age discrimination complaints against employers are up 40 percent in the past 12 years.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) An aging American workforce is finding itself in a squeeze. Corporations are needing to cut payroll and younger people are willing to do jobs for considerably less pay.

"Often we see it with new managers coming in and wanting to score points and reduce the bottom line," said Anne Gusewelle, a senior attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Age discrimination charges filed with the EEOC now make up a quarter of the complaints they investigate.

"I used to be shocked about that and now it's routine and very disappointing," Gusewelle said.

The number of age discrimination lawsuits filed nationally has risen more than 40 percent in the past 12 years. In 2012, there were nearly 24,000 cases filed nationally.

At one time, workers might have thought their seniority and experience were benefits they brought to their jobs. Now, it could instead be used against them as a reason to get them dismissed.

"You think that counts for something, but at the end of the day management turns over and no one remembers the good things you did, and you're vulnerable," Gusewelle said.

In the St. Joseph office of the Missouri Department of Transportation, two former employees have filed age discrimination suits. One plaintiff was 62 years old when she was demoted, then eventually let go. Her lawsuit says her name was included on a "Buzzard's List" of employees targeted for early retirement or dismissal.

"The people who have been there so long actually bring all their experience and skills," Gusewelle said.

Area attorneys are seeing more people reach out to them for help. Attorney Michael Williams of Williams-Dirks Law Office in Kansas City has both defended companies against age discrimination suits and also assisted workers who feel they've been targeted.

"It takes a plaintiff who's willing to stand up and say, 'no,'" Williams said. "Some people don't want to fight."

Williams says older workers can lose their jobs when they least expect it.

"A lot of times people think it can't happen to me," he said. " I do this job, this is my family. I've worked hard for them for 20 years, and they don't see the warning signs until it's too late."

Gusewelle says her EEOC office will continue to stay busy with age discrimination complaints.

"Until companies get away from being so focused on cutting costs and reducing the bottom line, older workers are going to be vulnerable," she said.

In a follow up to this story Tuesday night on KQ2, we'll show what aging workers should watch out for if they think they could be targeted for age discrimination.

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