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Workplace Age Discrimination Persists

Fifty years after the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed, ageism remains too common and accepted, says a new report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Released June 26, 2018, the report examined age discrimination in the U.S. since the ADEA took effect, outlawing employment discrimination against anyone at least 40 years old. Despite the ban, the EEOC received 18,376 charges of age discrimination during fiscal year 2017.

Charges filed with federal and state enforcement agencies represent a fraction of the likely discrimination that occurs in the workplace. One key reason is that ageism can be difficult to prove, so most discriminatory and harassing conduct goes unreported, according to the EEOC's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.

A study that AARP conducted last year with 3,900 people ages 45 and older who were employed or looking for work found that six out of 10 older workers report seeing or experiencing ageism and 90 percent said it was common.

Victoria A. Lipnic, EEOC acting chair, called ageism "an open secret."

"Like harassment, everyone knows [age discrimination] happens every day to workers in all kinds of jobs, but few speak up," she said in a news release accompanying the report.

"There is still much that needs to be done to strengthen the law, work with employers and dispel myths about older workers," said David Certner, AARP legislative counsel and legal policy director in Washington, D.C.

Ageism is much like other forms of discrimination, the EEOC noted. Stereotypes about the abilities and qualifications of women, for example, were based "on assumptions about the appropriate roles of women in the workplace and society," the agency pointed out.

Although older workers today are better educated, living longer and staying in the workplace longer than those of previous generations, discrimination and outdated assumptions about them continue, Lipnic pointed out in the report.

And EEOC data shows the demographics of workers who file ADEA charges have changed dramatically over the years. In 1990, men filed almost twice as many charges as women. But by 2010, the number of women filing age charges had surpassed the number of men filing age charges, a trend that continues today. Additionally, the number of age discrimination charges among racial groups has grown with each decade.

The issue affects all industries. The Communications Workers of America in May added Facebook, Ikea and hundreds of other companies to a class-action lawsuit alleging age discrimination. The suit, Bradley v. T-Mobile, claims that the defendants target their job ads on Facebook so that only the social networking site's younger users see them. 

Source: SHRM, https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/Pages/EEOC-Ageism-Persists-in-the-Workplace.aspx, June 29, 2018.

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