Age Discrimination Cases Will Make You Sick…and are difficult to prove.
Age discrimination can be hazardous to your health, a new study by researchers at Florida State University’s College of Medicine has found.
The study followed participants over a course of 4 years, measuring changes in health of employees who had perceived themselves as being victims of age and/or weight discrimination.
“Our previous research showed that perceived discrimination based on body weight was associated with risk of obesity. We wanted to see whether this association extended to other health indicators and types of discrimination,” said lead author Angelina Sutin, assistant professor of behavioral sciences and social medicine.
What’s more, people who see themselves as targets of age discrimination are likelier to be in poor health than victims of race or sex discrimination, according to the study.
“What we found was unexpected and striking,” said Sutin.
The study, which was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, noted that Americans 50 or older who perceived discrimination based on their age had significantly lower physical and emotional health — and greater declines in health — than people who did not report experiencing such discrimination.
Sutin and colleagues found that older adults who perceived weight discrimination and older adults who perceived discrimination based on age, a physical disability or other aspect of appearance had significantly lower physical and emotional health and greater declines in health compared to people who did not report experiencing such discrimination.
In contrast, perceived discrimination based on relatively fixed characteristics — race, sex, ancestry and sexual orientation — were largely unrelated to declines in physical and emotional health for the older adults.
The findings are based on a sample of more than 6,000 adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study, a study of Americans ages 50 and older and their spouses. Participants reported on their physical, emotional and cognitive health in 2006 and 2010 and also reported on their perceived experiences with discrimination.
“We know how harmful discrimination based race and sex can be, so we were surprised that perceived discrimination based on more malleable characteristics like age and weight had a more pervasive effect on health than discrimination based on these more fixed characteristics,” Sutin said.
The one exception was loneliness.
Loneliness was the most widespread health consequence of discrimination among older adults. Discrimination based on every characteristic assessed in Sutin’s study was associated with greater feelings of loneliness. According to previous studies, the effects of chronic loneliness are severe: increased risk for unhealthy behaviors, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular risk factors and suicide.
“Humans have a strong need to belong, and people often feel distressed when they do not have their desired social relationships,” Sutin said. “Our research suggests that perceiving a hostile society is associated with pervasive feelings of loneliness. An individual may interpret discrimination as an indication that they do not fit in the society in which they live.”
Unfortunately, discrimination based on age can be one of the more difficult types of discrimination to prove. Oftentimes, employers will make comments about ‘bringing in some young blood’ or needing a ‘fresh outlook.’
These statements, while often indicators of an intent to disregard older workers, are not usually enough to base a case on by themselves. Many experts agree that as long as employers are careful about not actually making overt statements about an employee or perspective employee’s age, they can get away with cleaning out older workers. As long as the employer can give a reasonable, non-discriminatory reason for the decision, he or she is usually safe from legal action.
The need for bringing in younger workers is often overstated by uneducated managers. Enthusiasm and energy are two traits that most employers look for in younger candidates. What they should be focused on is an employee’s output, which is generally much greater in older employees who have been in the workforce longer and have already learned the ropes.
Discrimination based on age is only illegal if the applicant or employee is over the age of 40. Currently employers are free to discriminate against employees who are younger than 40, and can even do so blatantly.
In the recent case of Behar v. Union Bank, the court found that two women, Nimet Behar and Clorinda Greek were terminated because of their age, even though their employer had given other, non-discriminatory reasons for the firing.
A California Superior Court jury awarded both plaintiffs a total of $2.6 million in damages. The two women, ages 49 and 63, alleged that their terminations were motivated by their age. The employer claimed that the two women were terminated for misconduct (investing in a condominium complex with a bank customer), but the evidence suggested that the investment occurred two years prior to the firings and the employees’ supervisor was aware of the investment but did nothing about it, and the plaintiffs were never disciplined for the investment.
If you feel that you or a loved one has been discriminated because of his or her age, and he or she is over the age of 40, contact Stephen Danz & Associates today at (877) 789-9707 or use the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free consultation. Stephen and one of his associates will sit down with you to go over the facts of your case, outlining any possible claims that you may have. Though you are free to schedule an appointment at any one of our offices throughout the state, we can also meet with you at a location that is convenient to your work, home or school so that you will not have to deal with traffic and parking at any of our offices.
Stephen has more than 30 years of experience defending California employees in cases against their employers. He only represents workers, and never takes cases on behalf of employers.