As someone who collects ageist comments, even this is a new one for me. But it gives me the opportunity to discuss ageism and the workplace — again.
Apparently, a Colorado hospital (yet another medical facility?) fired or forced the retirement of older employees – at least according to a new EEOC lawsuit.
A nurse who worked there for 27 years was accused of “performance deficiencies for which younger nurses were treated much more leniently. … [H]ospital managers made ageist comments, including that younger nurses could ‘dance around the older nurses’ and that they preferred younger and ‘fresher’ nurses.”
Nothing in my collection comes close to younger nurses can “dance around the older nurses,” and the closest I could come to “fresher” was from an EEOC suit earlier this year that was settled: it was alleged that a company owner said that he wanted “younger and peppier” employees when he fired a 52 year old employee.
Recently I wrote about Dick Van Dyke, who is now 90, talking about age discrimination – what he called “The last acceptable discrimination.” And a few days ago, I commended for all readers a short piece about ageism published in the Review Section of the New York Times by Ashton Applewhite, author of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.”
It was appropriately titled “You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch.”
MY COLLECTION OF AGEIST COMMENTS: WHAT NOT TO SAY
Recently I posted a piece titled “67-Year Old Employee A ‘Carry Out’ – He Will Pass Away On The Job.” It was about a recent court decision in which a 67-year old employee claimed that:
“he was ‘frequently the brunt of embarrassing and hurtful age-related jokes.’ … (i) one of the jokes was ‘at age 67, [p]laintiff had four children who were barely teenagers’; (ii) ‘[p]laintiff’s superiors allowed him to be depicted as old and decrepit in unflattering cartoons’; and (iii) one of the jokes plaintiff’s superiors condoned was ‘referring to [plaintiff] as a ‘carry out’, i.e. someone who would pass away on the job.'”
Last October 3rd I published my millionth post about coded language, often used by “clever” employers in the context of discrimination cases. That is, language which might be understood or construed as standing in for direct evidence of racial or sexist or ageist animus. I summarized a few years’ worth of such age cases and the coded language used, which reminds us what fairly blatant “coded” language is:
“Perhaps some employers think that they can escape being caught discriminating against older people if they code their language. Or maybe they are just used to making ageist comments because they have, as the EEOC has said, ‘outdated prejudices and biases.’ Either way, these comments may be seen as code words, or perhaps in political parlance — ‘dog-whistle’ expressions, which are designed to ‘convey a predetermined meaning to a receptive audience, while remaining inconspicuous to the uninitiated.’”
I instructed employers that “you do not call an employee ‘old’ or ‘ancient,’ since that is direct evidence of age discrimination. You stay away from calling an employee ‘old school,’ or ‘set in his ways,’ or ‘not a proper fit for the “new environment,’ or ‘lacking in energy.’ And, of yes, ‘Hang up your Superman cape’ and ‘get it together you f….ing old people’ should also be avoided.
Also on my list were comments such as an employee “looks old,” “sounds old on the telephone,” or is like a bag of bones. Or that there are too many “gray hairs,” or “too many old, fat, ugly and gray-haired employees.”
Or that “they get tired easily.”
Given the aging of the Boomer generation, I anticipate that ageism — and “clever” ways to semi-disguise it — will populate my posts until my fingers are too old to type.
Ashton Applewhite said that “In 2016, almost 20 percent of Americans 65 and older are working. … These older people represent a vast well of productive and creative potential. Veteran workers can bring deep knowledge to the table, as well as well-honed interpersonal skills, better judgment than the less experienced and a more balanced perspective. … Why, then, are well over a million and a half Americans over 50, people with decades of life ahead of them, unable to find work? … The problem is ageism … [a] dumb and destructive obsession with youth so extreme that experience has become a liability. … Age discrimination in employment is illegal, but two-thirds of older job seekers report encountering it.”
TAKEAWAY: I have two today.
First: A Phoenix EEOC Regional Attorney said about this latest lawsuit:
“Research shows that pervasive stereotypes about older workers still persist – for example, there are widespread stereotypes that older workers are less motivated, flexible, or trusting and that a younger workforce is preferable. These stereotypes are flatly untrue and must be recognized for what they are – prejudice and false assumptions.”
Second: As I posted last year: Learn from these real life cases of ageist comments and stay away from their use, or any words or comments that may be understood as being proxies for “old.”
And examine yourself: do you possess prejudices and biases when hiring, firing or otherwise dealing with older workers? If so – stop!