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Age Discrimination Rears Its Head in the NFL


It is not uncommon to hear about NFL players "retiring" at what seems like an early age. Certainly, professional football is a sport that takes a toll on the body, making younger players more sought after than older ones. But should that custom also apply to NFL management? It would seem that getting rid of older team managers to make room for younger ones could be considered age discrimination. This is the issue the San Francisco 49ers recently faced.

Team Managers Fired Because of Their Age

Two team managers for the San Francisco 49ers, both in their late fifties, were terminated in 2011. They filed a lawsuit against the team, alleging age discrimination. According to their suit, they were not the only senior managers who were wrongfully terminated in 2011 and 2012 to make room for younger employees. The plaintiffs had worked with the team for more than 20 years, during which time they consistently received excellent performance reviews.

CEO Allegedly Made Comments Demonstrating His Age Bias

According to the former employees, the CEO had said he wanted to hire younger tech workers from Silicon Valley who made a lot of money, didn't need to play golf six days a week, and did a lot of cool things before they turned forty. One of the plaintiffs claims he was told that he was being terminated because the team was "going in a different direction;" the other was fired for alleged "undisclosed performance reasons."

Is This a Case of Age Discrimination?

Assuming these allegations are factual, the San Francisco 49ers' recent terminations would be considered age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA is a federal law that prohibits age discrimination against individuals who are age forty and over. While this law allows an employer to favor an older employee over a younger one, they cannot favor the younger worker over the older worker merely on the basis of age.

Age Discrimination Disguised As a Reduction in Force

It is not uncommon for businesses to lay off employees when business is slow or finances become an issue. Newer employees are terminated in these situations based on the principle "last hired, first fired." In some cases, however, older employees are laid off instead under the guise that they have higher salaries and would save the company money. In reality, many such layoffs or terminations may be discrimination based on age.

What Type of Employment Actions Are Considered Discriminatory?

The ADEA prohibits discrimination based on an employee's age in any facet of employment—including hiring, layoffs, termination, job assignments, wages, benefits, promotions, and more. The ADEA also forbids harassing an employee on account of their age. Even spoken comments may be considered harassment if they lead to a hostile or offensive work environment.

What Can You Do Against Workplace Harassment?

All employees are legally protected against discrimination and harassment on the job. If you believe you have been the victim of unfair workplace practices, or if you have any additional questions concerning your employment rights, take action today. Get in touch with Michel | King to discuss your rights and options with a team of experienced Birmingham employment lawyers.

You can reach us by filling out an online case evaluation form or by calling (205) 265-1880.

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