Under state and federal law, it is illegal to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of their age, and yet many older job applicants will tell you it happens all the time. In a study published by the AARP last year, researchers called ageism “the last acceptable bias” in the workplace.
Recently, a group of workers filed a class-action lawsuit against Starbucks, claiming that the coffee giant practiced systematic age discrimination in its hiring processes. One of the workers named in the lawsuit is a 59-year-old store manager was denied a promotion to district manager and later fired after Starbucks hired a younger worker for the management position he wanted. According to the organizers of the suit, this type of discrimination is common at Starbucks all over the country, particularly with regard to management positions.
Age discrimination can be hard to prove. Most employers know better than to write “help wanted” ads or job descriptions that specify they want a young person for a job — this would be clear evidence of age discrimination — but they sometimes use other methods that weed out older workers.
For instance, an employer might say it is looking for a worker who is a “digital native.” This term doesn’t specify age, but it implies that the employer wants only workers who grew up using digital technology, such as the Internet. By default, this means workers over age 40 or so are not welcome, and so the employers’ actions have a disparate impact on older workers.
Proving your case
It isn’t easy for plaintiffs to prove their case in any discrimination case, including age discrimination cases. But it’s important for workers to know their rights and to seek out help when they have suffered from unlawful discrimination.