In February 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a lawsuit in the South District of Florida against Ruby Tuesday, a national restaurant chain, alleging age discrimination. The EEOC alleges that Ruby Tuesday discriminated against older applicants for both “front of the house” positions, which include host and server positions, and “back of the house” positions, which include chef and kitchen manager positions. The complaint claims that Ruby Tuesday’s management told older applicants that they were “too experienced,” that Ruby Tuesday was searching for “fresh” youthful employees, and that “[Ruby Tuesday] wasn’t looking for “old white guys.”
This lawsuit is not the first time Ruby Tuesday has been accused of age discrimination. In 2013, Ruby Tuesday agreed to pay $575,000 to settle another age discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC in Western District of Pennsylvania, which alleged that Ruby Tuesday directly or implicitly instructed the managers at six restaurants in Pennsylvania and Ohio to not hire servers, bartenders, hostesses or kitchen staff over the age of 40.
People are living longer, healthier, and more productive lives; however, the unsupported stereotype still exists that older workers are mentally and physically inferior to younger workers and lack flexibility and enthusiasm. Age discrimination is profoundly harmful, depriving the national economy of the productive labor of millions of workers, substantially increasing the costs of both unemployment insurance and Social Security benefits, and inflicting economic and psychological injury upon workers robbed of the opportunity to engage in productive and satisfying occupations. As Kerry Segrave, the author of numerous works of social history, famously stated: “Racial bias targets people for what they are. Age bias targets people for what they become.” The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) protects individuals above the age of 40 who are discriminated against based on their age. Robert E. Weisberg, the EEOC attorney representing the plaintiffs in 2015 lawsuit, stated: “As workers remain in the workforce longer, it is more important than ever that we refocus on the principle of non-discrimination based on age in the workplace. The EEOC will vigorously protect the rights of job applicants to ensure that hiring decisions are based on abilities, not age.”
In addition to discriminatory hiring, older workers are likely to be unemployed for longer periods of time than their younger counterparts and typically earn less after losing a job. The Washington Post reports that over 35 percent of those unemployed from age 55 to 64 remain so for the long term. This percentage increases to 45 percent for unemployed workers age 65 and older. Age discrimination forces older people into retirement earlier than planned and with less money in their retirement years. Older workers are also likely to earn less after losing a job. Accordingly to Heidi Shierholz, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Chief Economist, older workers earn 13.5 percent less in a new job after losing one than younger workers. This is particularly troublesome because in many families, an older worker is the breadwinner, and when he or she cannot find work, the rest of the family is unable to afford basic necessities. The elimination of discriminatory barriers keeping older but capable workers out of the workforce is essential for a healthy economy and healthy nation.
Employers must recognize that staffing older workers is a benefit and not bad luck. If you believe your employer illegally discriminated against you because of your age, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.