- A 63-year-old car salesman who was fired following an incident with a coworker was allowed to move forward with his age bias claim (Willard v. Huntington Ford, Inc., No. 19-1763 (6th Cir. March 11, 2020)).
- Dennis Willard was a top salesperson at the Ford dealership where he worked, though he was known for being "abrasive" and a "bully," according to deposition testimony. Willard alleged that the dealership's general manager and other supervisors often asked him when he was going to retire and referred to him using ageist language, including "dinosaur," "grandpa," and "over-the-hill." He was suspended and eventually fired after having a heated argument with a co-worker. Willard believed, according to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, that the dealership had "seized upon the incident with [his coworker] and misled him about the length of his suspension so that it could terminate him because of his age."
- The 6th Circuit reversed a lower court's decision and allowed Willard's case to proceed, stating that the "medley of ageist slurs and putdowns tied to Willard's position at Huntington Ford...are compelling circumstantial evidence that Huntington Ford's legitimate reasons for terminating Willard are pretextual." Willard was also able to show that the general manager treated him "less favorably" than younger employees by processing his sales paperwork more slowly, which affected Willard's ability to close sales.
According to the AARP, workplace ageism remains the "last acceptable bias in America." More than a fifth of employees over age 40 in a recent Hiscox Ageism in the Workplace Study said they had experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Hiscox recommended that employers provide employees with age bias training, watch out for harassment and exclusion from advancement or hiring, and respond immediately to complaints of discrimination.
Age bias is often inadvertent, as when employers recruit solely at college campuses or attempt to create a more youthful brand image. A former vice president of IBM, for example, claimed the company fired 100,000 workers to appear "cooler" and "trendier" to the millennial and Gen Z applicants it wanted to attract. IBM denied intentionally discriminating against older workers.
Older employees can sometimes be targeted because they are long-tenured (and therefore higher paid), but employers can benefit in many ways by taking proactive steps to retain, rather than remove, these workers. Tom Scroggins, a partner with Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, previously told HR Dive that "retaining an existing experienced employee is usually more cost-efficient than replacing them with someone new." If a worker's skills have grown outdated or stale, targeted training can help rectify the problem.