- Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will pay $10 million to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit alleging it systemically laid off workers over the age of 40 in favor of retaining younger employees; the employer also will provide injunctive relief to reach an early resolution to EEOC's lawsuit, the agency announced June 11 (EEOC v. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 2:20-cv-03131 (C.D. Calif. June 9, 2020)).
- JPL, a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center based in Pasadena, California, also allegedly passed over older employees for rehire in favor of less qualified, younger employees, according to the complaint. JPL's actions violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), EEOC said.
- In addition to the monetary settlement, JPL agreed to retain a director of diversity, an EEO monitor and a layoff coordinator. It also will report to the EEOC about recruitment, hiring, layoffs, terminations and complaints about age discrimination. The center is also required to provide training to all employees on age discrimination.
Despite the ADEA, research has shown that ageism in the workplace is widespread and often considered the "last acceptable bias," according to AARP.
JPL is a technological research facility that carries out robotic space and Earth science missions, and age bias is known issue in the tech industry, in particular, some say. "[T]his is disadvantageous to both companies and employees," Carla Bevins, assistant teaching professor of business communications at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, told HR Dive in a recent interview.
"It is clear that technological advances such as data analytics and social media have affected work culture and have also influenced how we work in all parts of an organization," Bevins said. "There is often a fixed mindset surrounding the roles older and younger employees take on the skill sets they have."
Additionally, older employees often possess soft skills that can lead to success in technological environments such as telework, Bevins said. "When mature workers are able to effectively use technology in their work, their well-developed soft skills — I argue they are essential skills — translate to strong work production in online environments," she said.
For HR professionals working to prevent discrimination and harassment, training can be key. Front-line supervisors and managers are a leading cause of bias claims, according to experts, which means they should receive regular training on how to prevent bias, harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims to remain in accordance with federal, state and local laws.
Randstad, for example, provides all team members with compliance training on laws against discrimination, Floss Aggrey, vice president of diversity and Inclusion at Randstad Sourceright, told HR Dive in a recent interview. "In the midst of fighting stereotypes, the company also said it practices "allyship based on protected categories including age, ability or ethnicity and gender diversity," she said.