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Age Discrimination in Workplace has Warning Signs

Age discrimination is often blamed when companies remove an older worker from their job and replace them with someone much younger at a much lower salary. Experts say companies will try to build a case against those they are targeting to cover themselves.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) As aging baby boomers continue to stay in the workforce into their 50s, 60s and even later, age discrimination claims are going way up.

More businesses think a way to streamline operations is to remove older workers and replace them with younger, cheaper models.

What should you be watching for at your workplace?

You've been with your current company for more than 20 years. You've done a good job and make a good salary. But with management planning budget cuts, could you be in danger of losing your job?

"It's going to become more prevalent as employers want to move those workers out," says Kansas City attorney Michael Williams.

Williams has defended companies against age discrimination lawsuits and also represented plaintiffs. He says companies try to build cases against workers they're targeting for removal.

"They want to single you out and build a file that says you're tardy, you're not doing your job," he said. "You may have spent five minutes on the internet longer than you should have. You get written up because you're one or two minutes late, but everyone else is five minutes late. Employers, in my experience, will document those things when they're trying to push someone out the door."

Williams says there are often warning signs that you might be on the chopping block.

"They say they're going to start doing these different performance reviews or we're going to start scaling back on your time and hire somebody for you to train," he said.

Age discrimination complaints are handled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Nationally, there were nearly 24,000 claims last year.

"If they can fire somebody who is in their mid-50's or mid-60s, very seasoned and has a high salary and replace them with somebody half their age for half the price, that happens a lot," said Anne Gusewelle, a senior attorney with the EEOC.

Gusewelle has recommendations for employees who think they might be targeted by their boss.

"If you think something funny is going on, document it," she said. "Write a little note in your calendar. Make a little memo to yourself and send it to yourself in a sealed envelope."

Gusewelle says losing a job based on age discrimination is more than just a financial hardship.

"They lose people they've been seeing every day, co-workers that are longtime friends," she said. "Suddenly there's a rift that makes it uncomfortable to stay in contact."

Williams has seen the same with his clients.

"Your job is your identity," he said. "For someone just to take away your identity for no reason other than you've gotten older and have a few more grey hairs. That's not right, that's what the law prohibits."

There are currently two age discrimination lawsuits pending against the St. Joseph office of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

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.

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