Labor & Employment

Age bias claims are on the rise; study with 'old Max' illustrates problem

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Age bias claims are on the rise even as the Supreme Court has made winning more difficult.

The New York Times Booming blog has the statistics. In 2012, there were 22,875 age bias claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, compared to 15,875 in 1997. The story also cites data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When an older person is laid off, typically he or she spends an extra two to six months finding a new job than younger workers. And the older workers are likely to make considerably less money.

Age bias cases are harder to win after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that employees have to show age is a determining factor, rather than just one factor, in a layoff, the story says. AARP lawyer Laurie McCann told the New York Times about the impact of the case, Gross v. FBL Financial Services. “Plaintiffs’ attorneys have told us that they will not take age cases anymore because of the Gross decision,” she said.

The story reports on a new Princeton study showing how age bias can affect perception. Test subjects—137 Princeton students—viewed a video of a man named “Max” who would be their partner in a trivia contest. There were actually three actors playing Max, one 25 years old, one 45, and one 75. Half the time, Max said he was the type of person who would share his wealth with relatives, and half the time Max said he felt no obligation to share.

The students’ opinion of Max didn’t vary based on his willingness to share, with one exception. The students gave the older Max who didn’t want to share his money a high negative rating. Says the Times, “It turns out that a young Max and a middle-aged Max can get away with saying things that an old Max cannot.”

Princeton professor Susan Fiske, one of the study authors, drew some conclusions from the findings. “If you want to be an aging gray panther, and speak your mind to your manager, that’s fine,” she said. “But expect consequences.”

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