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Can't Teach an "Old Dog" New Tricks


Although this may be a very common saying, it can also be a sign of age bias in the working world. It is not unusual for employment discrimination allegations to include biased comments toward a protected group, such as employees over the age of 40. While these comments are helpful in proving a discrimination claim, they alone are not always sufficient to win your case. All of the facts surrounding your employment and your employer’s challenged actions are important to your case.

Older Employee Considered Unable to Handle Job After Goals Increased

In a recent case out of New York, a 54-year-old salesman alleged that he had been discriminated against because of his age, after his sales expectations were increased by 40% in spite of a reduction in sales territory of more than 60%. After these changes were made to his work conditions, he was told that was “too old to keep up with the younger guys.” In reference to his ability to operate technological devices, the company president allegedly also made the comment, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” These clear age-biased comments, along with other changes to his work environment, lead the employee to quit his job.

Constructive Discharge Age Claim Survives Summary Judgment

As is typical in employment discrimination cases, the employer filed a motion for summary judgment in that case, asking the court to dismiss the case before trial; however, the court held that the salesperson’s age discrimination claim should be presented to a jury. Specifically, the employee had established sufficient evidence that his employer discriminated against him by reducing his sales territory, giving those areas to younger employees, simultaneously increasing his volume of expected sales, denying his requests for support staff, and excluding him from company functions. All of these facts were deemed sufficient to prove that he was constructively discharged from his employment.

The Employee’s At-Will Status Was Irrelevant

One of the arguments the employer made in this case was that the salesperson was an at-will employee and his employment agreement allowed the employer to unilaterally modify his job responsibilities and working territory. The court understood the facts differently, however, holding that even though the employee signed the agreement, he retained a right to claim that his employer’s actions were “motivated by discriminatory animus.”

How Is Age Discrimination Defined?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), prohibits acts of discrimination against employees because of their age. The protections of the ADEA apply to all employees of 40 or more years of age. This anti-discrimination law also prohibits retaliation by employers for complaints of discrimination, including filing an EEOC charge, participating in a related investigation, or filing a lawsuit claiming age discrimination.

What Types of Employer Conduct Are Prohibited Under the ADEA?

Under the ADEA, employers cannot mention age or indicate a preferred age in recruitment or job notices. Employers are also prohibited from restricting access to training programs based on age. Furthermore, with rare and limited exceptions, they cannot require worker retirement upon reaching a certain age.

Employment law can be complicated. To take action against employer discrimination or other illegal workplace practices, get in touch with Michel | King . Our employment law attorneys are ready to discuss your case and get you started on the path to a favorable resolution.

Contact us online or call our Birmingham office at (205) 265-1880.

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