How to Avoid an $11M Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Dr. Ryan Giffen

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) has been the law of the land since1967.  However, whether willfully or not, company's like Google continue to get sued for allegedly discriminating towards persons over the age of40.  In a recent case  Heath v. Google LLC, No. 15-cv-01824 (N.D.California July 19, 2019), Google settled an age discrimination case for$11M.  What can you do to protect your company and limit your liability? 

This news comes as no surprise.  In a 2017 report the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), reported that 1,836 employment- based complaints were due to age discrimination.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), reported 22,430 claims were filed in 2017.

Here's the deal, age bias allegations will continue to rise as long as employees continue to stay in the workforce.  Think about it, for the first time since the industrial revolution, there are 5 generations working together in offices across the country (traditionalist, baby boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z).  Traditional Baby Boomers continue to work longer than previous generations. Some choose by choice and others by force due to rising healthcare costs and a lack of retirement savings.

As the employer, how do you prevent age discrimination lawsuits when the majority of the workforce is over 40 years old?  Well….you can't!  You heard me right…you can't prevent an age discrimination lawsuit.  Any past employee (depending on your State and/or Federal statute of limitations) can sue you.  So then, the next set of questions you should ask yourself are, are you ready?  What have you done to protect your business?  How can you limit your liability? How can you prevent an age discrimination lawsuit in the first place?

Surprisingly, you can protect yourself and your business quite easily with little direct cost involved.  First, are you treating employees the way they should be treated? Are you showing care, respect, and dignity to all employees regardless of their age?  Second, are you treating all employees equally and equitably through accountability and discipline? Not playing favorites nor avoiding the tough conversations that must be had to ensure maximum fairness across the organization? Third, do you have a sound documentation process? In a time of terminations or layoffs, are you maintaining records and written documentation every step of the way that will show a jury of your peers that the decision you executed made "reasonable business sense?" 

About Dr. Ryan Giffen

With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Ryan Giffen is an expert in human relations and business culture. His career began in hospitality, leading operations and human resource departments for Fortune 500 companies and the like. Not long after, Ryan found his passion for teaching and consulting. He earned a Ph.D. in Hospitality Management with a Human Resources focus from Iowa State University and now works as an assistant professor at California State University, Long Beach. For over a decade, he continues to research and speak on organizational culture, relationship intelligence, and leadership effectiveness. Ryan is also the founder of Inospire, a company helping bosses and employees build stronger relationships with one another.  Lastly, Dr. Giffen is producer and host of the Corporate Shadow Podcast. a show helping everyday employees overcome workplace nonsense.