"No one ever says, 'You're old; we don't want you.' They say, 'This may require some lifting. Are you capable?' " said Paul Westgate, who's 58 and says he was laid off from his job as repairman at an Attleboro, Mass., plant that makes manufacturing equipment. The questions make little sense to him, because in his field, ladders and lifting are "almost a thing of the past," and the job is primarily technically oriented, he said, adding, "I can still do my thing." He says, "They want experience, but they want an experienced 30-year-old."
The Wall Street Journal has a good article out this week discussing recent statistics that show age discrimination claims rising at a dramatic rate. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a report showing that age-discrimination allegations by employees are at a record high, jumping 29% to 24,600 filed in the year ended Sept. 30, up from 19,100 in 2007. Overall employment discrimination complaints are also at a record high -- up 15% to 95,402 complaints -- but the most dramatic increase was in the age-related complaints according to the EEOC.
According to the FY 2008 data, all major categories of charge filings in the private sector (which includes charges filed against state and local governments) increased. Charges based on age and retaliation saw the largest annual increases, while allegations based on race, sex and retaliation continued as the most frequently filed charges. The surge in charge filings may be due to multiple factors, including economic conditions, increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force, and possibly employees’ greater awareness of the law.
The dramatic increase in age claims is not completely surprising. It may make a certain financial logic in that companies may be targeting older workers in layoffs because the senior staffers are generally the highest paid and have the most lucrative benefits. However, it can also be one of the most financially devastating forms of discrimination. Older workers fired at the peak of their earning potential often find it impossible to find comparable work for comparable pay.
Here is a link to the EEOC's statistics.