- A 58-year-old employee whose 52-year-old supervisor allegedly made multiple negative comments about her age should be allowed to proceed with her age bias claim, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held (Hannon v. Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, No. 18-6334 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2019)).
- During the five months Juliet Depina supervised Pamela Hannon before firing her, Depina allegedly made at least six comments about Hannon's age, including calling her "grandma" and "little old lady." Depina also allegedly teased Hannon about postmenopausal issues and asked about her retirement plans.
- Viewed in the light most favorable to Hannon, the facts suggested that she endured numerous offensive comments over a short period and was terminated "despite her job performance being effective and satisfactory," the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said. Accordingly, the court reversed the lower court's summary judgment for the employer and remanded the case for a jury trial.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination and harassment based on age against applicants and employees age 40 or older. As this case illustrates, it applies even when the the individuals involved are close in age.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says age-related harassment can include "offensive or derogatory remarks about a person's age." The law doesn't extend to "simple teasing, offhand comments," or isolated, non-serious incidents, but it does prohibit harassment that creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment decision, such as termination or demotion.
While alleged harassers often are direct supervisors, perpetrators also may be supervisors in other areas, co-workers or non-employees like clients or customers.
Training workers and managers to identify age-related bias and harassment is essential, experts say — not just once, upon hire, but on an ongoing basis. It also can be a good idea to check in with older workers who seem to be having performance issues, asking what you can do to help, employment law attorney and blogger Eric B. Meyer has said. This is true even though the ADEA, unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), imposes no accommodation duty on employers, experts say, because a helpful, problem-solving approach can help boost morale and avoid damaging claims later on.