Despite signs of increased bias against older workers, age discrimination claims are difficult to win. That’s why a federal district court decision in Tennessee allowing a demoted nurse to proceed with her age claim is welcomed news. According to the BNA Daily Labor Report (no link — subscription required):
A 49-year-old nurse who provided direct evidence that her employer was seeking “young rising stars” to replace older workers is entitled to proceed to trial on her federal and state law claims that she was demoted from a shift leader position due to her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and state law, a federal district court in Tennessee held May 8 . . ..
The case is Woody v. Covenant Health, decided by the federal district court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, docket no. 11-cv-62, dated May 8, 2013. The defendant had moved for summary judgment, a procedural tool that, if granted, would have resulted in the case being dismissed even before going to trial. The court ruled the other way, finding that Nurse Woody is entitled to her day in court.
According to the Daily Labor Report summary of the case, not only did a supervisor express a “stated preference for younger shift supervisors,” but also the supervisor produced a job announcement expressly seeking younger applicants.
Age bias suits face uphill battles
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act and its state law counterparts prohibit employment discrimination against job applicants and workers age 40 or over.
The excellent Next Avenue site recently ran a piece by Penelope Lemov titled “What It Takes to Win an Age Discrimination Suit,” but in reality it’s actually a sobering assessment of the difficulty of prevailing in such a claim.
Lemov notes that age bias claims have been on the rise since the economic meltdown in 2008:
Age-related charges make up a growing number of complaints filed at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that handles such matters. Between 1997 and 2007, there were generally between 16,000 and 19,000 annual filings. But since 2008, the number of complaints has soared to 23,000 to 25,000 a year. Federal law says it’s illegal for an employer with 20 or more employees to discriminate against employees 40 or older based on their age.
Nevertheless, she aptly points out that “it has gotten harder and harder to win an age discrimination suit,” thanks to a combination of narrow interpretations of the law by federal courts and employers who are good at covering their tracks.
Obviously, in Woody v. Covenant Health, the employer was not very good at hiding its bias. Hopefully it will lead to a good result for this nurse.