- The University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) has been sued for violating the anti-retaliation provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) over allegations that it fired a manager for reporting that he had been told to hire millennials over older applicants.
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said KUMC's associate vice chancellor for information resources and chief information officer told managers in the information resources department to hire younger people. After Jeffrey Thomas reported the alleged age bias to KUMC officials, the EEOC said his job as supervisor of the IT help desk was eliminated in a reorganization. The EEOC also said that an internal investigation found at least one instance where an applicant was not hired because of her age.
- The federal agency has asked for monetary relief for Thomas, liquidated damages and an order preventing future retaliatory conduct.
In the statement announcing the lawsuit, an attorney for the EEOC observed that "age discrimination has become all too common in the workplace." Twenty-one percent of workers age 40 and older said they have faced age discrimination, according to the 2019 Hiscox Ageism in the Workplace Study. Even though the unemployment rate has been at historic lows for several consecutive months, older workers still report having difficulty getting hired, the EEOC has said. The agency has vowed to investigate ageism complaints and vigorously pursue employers that it finds violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
High profile employers have been hit with age-related claims, too. Earlier this summer, Google agreed to pay $11 million to settle allegations from a class of 227 plaintiffs that it engaged in age discrimination for three positions across the U.S. — site reliability engineer, software engineer and systems engineer. Google disputed the existence of any intentional age discrimination. In February, nationwide retailer IKEA was hit with a fifth lawsuit alleging age bias.
Federal lawmakers are grappling with the issue. A bipartisan bill that would make it easier to sue for age discrimination is under consideration on Capitol Hill. Congressional lawmakers introduced a bill, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, that would reverse a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that scrapped a longstanding mixed-motive standard for proving age discrimination cases under federal law and replaced it with a much tougher "but for" test. Now, a plaintiff must show that age discrimination was the sole factor for an adverse employment decision.
Employers should proceed with caution when planning layoffs or carrying out staff reorganizations, Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn and Dial Partner Matt Gomes previously told HR Dive in an interview. Older employees tend to be more senior and more highly paid, so when leaders lay off those making the most money, they may be setting themselves up for an age discrimination claim, Gomes said. To avoid accusations of age discrimination following a reorganization, HR should document everything.