Let me tell you, it’s tough being a woman over 40. Not only do you have to have to contend with being called “ma’am” as if you were a dowager, but older women in the workplace face potential violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) as well. That’s in addition to aggressive marketing campaigns to buy even more expensive eye cream!

Anyway, a commodities trading company, Gerald Metals in Connecticut, fired its 61-year-old female general counsel, and she immediately filed suit against them this past Tuesday alleging age and gender bias. Among other allegations, Plaintiff Roxanne Khazarian claims in the suit that there is a “good ol’ boy” network at the company, which is governed by an all-male board of directors and a new male CEO dedicated to lowering the age of employees by 15 years.

Yes, you heard that right.

Khazarian alleges, and let’s see if she can prove it, that CEO Craig Dean engaged in a “pattern or practice” of age and sex discrimination. Indeed, the suit claims the company “engaged in widespread and systemic age discrimination against its employees, generally, and older female employees, particularly” with regard to hiring, promotion, leadership and advancement opportunities, and firing.

Such behavior is illegal and violates not only Title VII’s prohibition against treating women adversely, i.e., discriminating against them, in the terms and conditions of employment, which includes hiring, firing, promotion, and advancement opportunities, to name a few, but, if true, such conduct violates the ADEA’s mandates.

According to the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces both laws, it is unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age or to classify its employees in any way that would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the person because of such individual’s age.

The suit claims that after this new CEO took over the company in 2013, the company:

  1. generally gave pay increases to and increased bonuses for younger employees but didn’t treat older employees the same;
  2. treated younger, prettier women more favorably by providing them with better pay, bonuses, and flexible work schedules; and
  3. barred employees from discussing compensation so they wouldn’t find out about pay inequities.

Did the Gerald Metals CEO do such dastardly (dumb) deeds? Well, we don’t know yet because right now, these are just allegations in a lawsuit.

Oh, and Fun Fact (as my daughter Jessy says): the company’s legal department currently has seven male lawyers who are all younger than Khazarian!

According to Khazarian, she complained about the goings-on, and subsequently, the company retaliated against her by firing her so now she has a potential claim for retaliation too.

Employer Takeaways:

There are so many, but I’m going to distill them down to just three—

First, and Rich and I often say this in our posts, DON’T terminate an employee after they complain about discrimination. The EEOC has stated in numerous reports and guidance documents that at least half of all Charges of Discrimination involve retaliation. As Rich wrote here that is a staggering statistic—”employers should realize that it’s far easier to prove retaliation than the underlying discrimination—and far easier to create a retaliation situation if you don’t know how to deal with a charge or claim or complaint of discrimination.”

Second, I recommend you cease and desist with all-male boards and these good ol’ boy networks. They do not serve your company, employees, or your shareholders. Studies have shown that a more diverse workplace is a more satisfied workplace.

Finally, and I have practically PREACHED this maxim numerous times (most recently here), and it is not a difficult concept to grasp—treat other people as fellow human beings deserving of respect, i.e., the way you yourself would want to be treated, without regard to age, sex, race, religion, disability, etc.

If not, you may face a costly and embarrassing lawsuit. Your choice.