Article: Read Sandra Richards' story
“I didn’t really think that they would actually walk me out. This is the 21st century. You can’t just walk people out for no reason. Unless I just…I guess I was too old? I don’t know.”
Sandra Richards was a support services manager with the Citrus Heights Police Department for 30 years. She said she loved her job and did it well.
“My performance reviews are exceptional. And I would honestly say I’m an exceptional employee. I go above and beyond, not just at this agency but every job I’ve ever had. Always been the first one there, last one to leave, never call in sick, will do anything.”
However, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court… Richards says just before she turned 55…her superiors at the Citrus Heights Police Department began talking about her retirement and about training her successors…something she herself wasn’t planning.
Richards says she was eventually escorted out of the building and fired.
Is this a clear case of age discrimination to you?
“It is to me, yeah," Richards said. “They just erased me. I was erased. And it’s embarrassing for me. I’ve never had anything like this happen. It’s hard for me to sit here and talk about it. But somebody has to talk about it. This has to stop.”
Richards said she recognized what was going on because she had been trained to be aware.
“I went to class after class on training on harassment and discrimination. So I have all this training and then this actually happened to me. I was…I couldn’t believe it. It was shocking.”
David Graulich is a Sacramento employment attorney with the Wronged at Work Law Group. He's not affiliated with the case, but said "age discrimination in the workplace is pervasive. It’s everywhere.” He has some advice for anyone concerned they could be a victim.
“Well number one, document everything," Graulich said. "The comments that are made in the hallway, the things someone says in a presentation, and keep that private. Don’t keep it at work. Keep it on your own personal computer or papers at home. The date, what was said, who was there, who are the witnesses.”
Graulich also says try not to complain aloud at work.
“That gives them a pretext, ‘Well you’re not doing the job. You’re creating dissention at work'," Graulich said.
Nicola Pitchford, president of Dominican University of California, has spoken out repeatedly about ageism in the workplace, particularly gendered ageism.
“This is a time particularly when employers across the country and across industries are really struggling to attract and retain great people," Pitchford said. "We don’t want to be discounting the value of a whole group of employees.”
Pitchford acknowledges from her own experience that neither opportunity nor discrimination fall equitably along gender lines.
“I’m still aware, nevertheless, that it’s a privilege for me to be a university president as a woman," Pitchford said. "And even though I am over 55, I’m actually younger than your average university president.”
Pitchford explained how damaging societal assumptions about age can be.
“If we associate change and innovation and creative thinking only with younger people, we’re really losing out," Pitchford said. "Certainly younger people tend to be cheaper. We can take more chances, we as employers might feel we can take more chances with younger people. But boy, the richness that comes from listening to older people.”
Linda Li is the outreach and education coordinator with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission’s San Francisco district office.
“We’re the federal agency that takes in charges of discrimination," Li said. "And I would say, nationally, it seems to have hovered pretty close to like slightly more than one-fifth of the charges that we take in nationally.”
While it might be surprising, Li says the numbers in California are actually worse. She says there may be some cultural assumptions about age we all need to challenge.
“Just anecdotally thinking about myself, like how many times do you make a knock against yourself, you know saying, ‘Oh, I’m having a senior moment.’ Do we kind of accept that bias in our society? Is it a more socially acceptable bias," Li said.
So what’s your best defense if you feel you’re being discriminated against because of your age?
“It’s really good to know your rights," Li said. "Figure out how age discrimination is defined. So really at it’s basic minimum, right, what we’re talking about is you’re being treated differently at work because you’re 40 or older.”
As for Richards, her lawsuit against the Citrus Heights Police Department has been working its way through the courts since 2020. But she says she’s not giving up.
“I’m a pretty strong woman," Richards said. "Most people aren’t as strong as I am. Most of it is from my growing up, my childhood. I’ve had to be kind of tough and self-sufficient and take care of myself. But most people aren’t like that. So if someone like me isn’t going to stand up for it, how is anybody else going to?”
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