Making Excuses for Age Discrimination

OregonianI recently read an article by the Oregonian that was noteworthy because of the number of excuses it put forth to justify age discrimination in employment.

Approximately 2,300 workers were laid off by Intel in Seattle last Spring. According to an article by Mike Rogoway on the web site of The Oregonian newspaper, the average age of an Intel worker is 43 whereas the average age of the laid off workers was 48.  He reported that Intel was nearly 8 times more likely to lay off workers over 60 as it was to lay off those under 30.

Interestingly, the Oregonian does not accuse Intel of age discrimination. Instead, the article states the layoffs were “skewed severely older. That’s not a coincidence.”   The Oregonian  goes on to offer various excuses for age discrimination in employment.

  • The article states that federal law does not protect older workers against losing jobs if their skills grow outdated…

Where’s the evidence that the skills of the older workers who were laid off were outdated? That’s a damaging stereotype.

  • The Oregonian quotes University of California Berkeley economist Clair Brown as stating that Intel is facing a painful transition from the fading PC market to mobile gadgets and other emerging technologies. She said it makes sense that Intel would want to develop a new generation of employee and reduce its “legacy” costs.

This is like saying it makes sense to condone irrational and harmful age discrimination in employment. Someone else might say it makes sense to keep your most experienced and successful workers in a time of crisis.

If cost was a factor to justify disproportionately laying off older workers, what other factors were considered? What about the cost of recruiting, hiring and training new employees? Did Intel reduce the inflated salaries of its top executives?  Was any consideration given to lowering salaries of the older workers instead of getting rid of them?

Brown also credits Intel with “treating departing employees relatively well” – which may come as a surprise to  older workers who have been dumped into a chronic morass of unemployment and under-employment due to pervasive and unaddressed age discrimination in hiring.

  • Courtney Angeli, of the law firm Altschul & Sullivan, is quoted as stating: “It would be rare … for a mass layoff like Intel’s to be motivated by bias against older workers – after all, she noted, it is aging executives who are typically calling the shots.”

In reality, it is not at all rare for employers to target older workers in mass layoffs. In fact, this is a common ploy  that is made possible  because older workers receive far less protection from invidious discrimination under federal law than victims of discrimination on the basis or race, sex, national origin, color or religion. (If you doubt this, read my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace)

Earlier this month, four former employees of Hewlett Packard (HP) filed a class action lawsuit in California  accusing the company of discriminating against older workers in layoffs of employees in 2012. The former workers, who were in their 50s and 60s when they were laid off, said that while HP was laying off thousands of its employees ostensibly to cut costs beginning , it was hiring thousands of younger employees to replace them.

And why is it significant that “aging executives” are calling the shots?   Age bias is not limited to young people. It’s a prejudice that is caused by fear of death, false and negative stereotypes, and animus toward a discrete group of people who share the same trait (age).  It is fundamentally no different than race or sex discrimination. For example, it is commonly asserted that African-Americans are biased against blacks who have darker skin tones.

The Oregonian article points to a problem in the media and in American society, where age discrimination often is minimized, trivialized and tolerated.

Intel claims the layoffs were based on a review of workers performance in the company’s annual review process and not based on age, gender or other factors.

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