Workplace discrimination comes in many forms including race, sex and age discrimination, but of these three types, age discrimination is the most difficult to prove. Americans are living longer, the recent recession is causing people to stay in the workforce longer and now the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is seeing an increase in age discrimination complaints. More complaints have led to an increase age discrimination studies.

The New York Times covered one of these new studies, which was conducted by researchers at Princeton University. More than 100 Princeton undergraduate students participated in the experiment, which included a video of a man that would be their partner in a trivia contest. The students were shown a man that was either 25, 45 or 75 years-old. Half of the men were described as compliant and the other half was assertive.

The compliant man said he would share his wealth while the assertive man said he didn’t feel obligated to share his wealth with relatives. The research showed that the opinion of study participants did not change with the compliant or assertive man at age 25 and 45 but at age 75, a distinct change was noted. The 75 year-old assertive man received a high negative rating.

Perhaps the grumpy old man stereotype was in play and that is a problem. All three assertive men used the exact same script. The only difference was the man’s age. If that isn’t an obvious sign of discrimination then I don’t know what is.

After reading The New York Times article, I decided to do a little Internet research on the topic and that is when I ran across this article on Forbes: What It Takes To Win An Age Discrimination Suit. While the article, in its entirety, is interesting this passage jumped out at me:

“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.”

It’s not the number of complaints that is striking, it is the fact that age discrimination covers workers aged 40 or older. I’m turning 40 in a few months and I certainly don’t feel old enough to be covered by age discrimination laws. I’ve been out of the office-based workforce for more than a decade, now, though. Is it really so bad for 40-somethings in the workplace that they need to be covered by federal anti-discrimination laws?

The Princeton University research didn’t show a difference with the 45 year-old group, but that’s just one study. I’m looking forward to reading some of the other age discrimination studies coming down the pipeline, especially now that I’m nearing the age of discrimination protection.

via [The New York Times]

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