- A Pennsylvania dental practice allegedly violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) when it fired eight out of nine dental hygienists over the age of 40 at a single location, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- The fired hygienists were not given any notice or reason for the termination, according to EEOC, and each had years of experience and was qualified for the job.
- Over the next two and a half years, said EEOC, the terminated hygienists were replaced with 14 employees, 13 of whom were under the age of 40.
The ADEA protects workers age 40 and older against age discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits and any other term or condition of employment. It is also illegal to harass someone on the basis of age.
While the ADEA has been around since 1967 and its prohibitions are clear, age discrimination remains an open secret in many workplaces, according to experts. Why is this the case? It may be, in part, that age differs from other protected characteristics, such as sex or race, which remain constant throughout a person's life, according to Aaron Goldstein, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney. Because the shift to a protected age category happens over time, this protected status isn't always recognized, he said.
Solid performance management at every age is important to help prevent age discrimination, Cathy Ventrell-Monsees, senior advisor at EEOC, previously told HR Dive. Additionally, employers need to be careful about acts of unintentional age bias, such as recruiting at college campuses or writing job descriptions that include terms like "digital native." Poorly chosen language can help keep an employee's age bias claim alive, as in the recent case of a 59-year-old employee who was criticized for his "dinosaur age related theories."