Sometimes it's just a feeling, that a slightly older employee is being treated differently than a younger one, but is it age discrimination?
Take Janet, she worked for 6 years for the nonprofit Children's Receiving Home, serving abused children in Sacramento. She was fired last fall, and believes her age was the reason. Federal law protects older workers as young as 40 against discrimination.
"When I started, over half of them were over 40. It was a pretty good mixture, 40s and 50s and some in their 30s and a few in their 20s. Then new management took over and they did their first massive layoff in 2009, and over half the older ones were let go," she said.
Working at the Children's Receiving Home often meant dealing with troubled teens. Janet's most recent review from 2012 met or exceeded expectations, but according to her lawsuit, the Children's Receiving Home believed younger employees were better at the job.
"They said we couldn't relate to the kids. They said we couldn't relate, but yet the kids would always come and ask me things," Janet said.
After being let go, she decided to sue for age discrimination. Her lawyer, Robert Bowman, says with the number of Baby Boomers still working, age discrimination is a growing concern in the workplace.
"It's almost like age becomes a disability. Because your employer starts thinking well maybe you can't drive, or climb stairs or chase children or lift things," Bowman said.
Mark Tratten, the attorney for the Children's Receiving Home, wouldn't comment on the specifics of the case, saying "We take these allegations seriously as it moves through the court process." As the lawsuit moves forward, Janet says she's struggling to find new work -- and feels self-conscious about her age.
"It's been difficult. Because I have to help support my family, you know? And I have older kids, and it's just hard! It's just very hard to support them and I don't want to put all the weight on my husband," Janet said.
If you suspect age discrimination:
- Bring up your concerns with your boss, and give them time to address the situation
- Keeps notes of any incidents where you feel like you were mistreated or left out
- Make a note of any time you are being punished for something that younger or older employees are not
- If you are fired, then replaced by a younger worker, that's a sign your age may have been a factor
If you decide to file suit, Bowman says these types of cases take awhile to resolve, and older workers are rarely offered the opportunity to come back to work.