- The Ohio State University (OSU) violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by firing an HR pro because of his age, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has alleged in a recently filed lawsuit.
- The EEOC said the 53-year-old man was laid off along with two workers in their sixties and that he was replaced with a younger and less-qualified worker — despite receiving satisfactory performance reviews during his 12 years of employment with the school. The federal agency also said that when he applied for several HR positions after the layoff, OSU "consistently selected younger, less qualified individuals."
- "The Ohio State University is committed to hiring and retaining a diverse and inclusive work force and providing equal opportunities for all. We do not comment on pending litigation," an OSU spokesman said in a statement emailed to HR Dive.
"It is important for public as well as private employers to understand that age discrimination is illegal. If a termination is age-discriminatory, disguising it behind a supposed reduction in force will not change that," EEOC Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
AARP researchers have found that age bias often plays a role in terminations. Older workers are targeted for dismissals because of perceptions about their contributions and pay, the organization said. Employers may set themselves up for age bias claims, especially during reorganizations or layoffs, if they focus on those making more money who tend to be older, legal experts previously told HR Dive.
The AARP also concluded that large employers often tolerate age bias because the laws that protect older workers are "decidedly weaker" than those that forbid other forms of discrimination. For example, the EEOC took the position in 2018 that IBM had "engaged in systematic age discrimination between 2013 and 2018, when it shed thousands of older workers in the United States.” An EEOC analysis of IBM employment data for 2013 through 2018 found that more than 85% of those the company targeted for layoff were older workers, ProPublica reported.
A letter from the EEOC to a group of ex-employees stated that a nationwide investigation conducted by the federal agency "uncovered top-down messaging from [IBM’s] highest ranks directing managers to engage in an aggressive approach to significantly reduce the headcount of older workers to make room" for younger hires. Reportedly, more than 6,000 IBM workers may have been affected by the EEOC finding.
IBM denied that it discriminated against older employees and has promised to "vigorously defend" the matter. The company also said its decisions are based on the needs of its business units, not age.
HR can develop and implement policies that forbid and prevent age discrimination, including arranging training on local, state and federal laws that forbid age discrimination and, if terminations become necessary, thoroughly documenting the reasons for such adverse actions.