Age Discrimination – What Older Workers Need to Know

Elon Musk is no stranger to controversy. He has received plenty of attention and criticism for his recent acquisition of Twitter and the changes he has made to the social media platform. But his other companies, Tesla and SpaceX, have been peppered by accusations and lawsuits.

A new accusation of age discrimination has occurred in another of Musk’s companies, SpaceX. A 62-year-old optics engineer claims he was pressured into resigning from the rocket company in July. He alleges upper management retaliated against him for filing complaints with COO Gwynne Shotwell and the human resource department regarding being passed over for promotions.

The engineer claims a hostile work climate was created as he was continuously harassed, denied opportunities, and ignored by HR, despite working seven days a week, 10-12 hours per day in SpaceX’s California office. He was told the responsibilities of his position had changed. He felt forced out and quit.

The former engineer says he always received glowing performance reviews. But in 2019, he took a few days off to recover after back surgery. He claims he never missed a day while undergoing physical therapy, but over the next year, his job responsibilities slowly went to younger engineers with less experience he was forced to train.

His complaint mentions his advancement being curtailed after he was marginalized, humiliated in meetings, had his abilities questioned, his contributions minimized, and his access to upper management limited.

Other Complaints Against Musk-Owned Companies

Earlier this year, a jury ordered Tesla to pay $137 million to a California auto worker who claimed the automaker allowed for a hostile work environment to exist where he was racially discriminated against. The award was later slashed to $15 million by a federal judge. In June, a shareholder filed a lawsuit due to Tesla’s failure to address their alleged hostile and discriminatory work environment.

Just weeks before the age discrimination case, a group of former employees filed complaints alleging unfair labor practices against SpaceX. The complainants reported to the National Labor Relations Board that they were fired after publicly criticizing Elon Musk. During this same period, another former engineer leveled allegations of sexual harassment against SpaceX.

Over at Twitter, at least three lawsuits have been filed since Musk took over ownership and management. The lawsuits arose in the wake of mass layoffs and ultimatums demanding employees to work long, “high intensity” hours at the office or quit. These allegations have been leveled by full-time workers, contractors, and employees with disabilities.

The Effects of Age Discrimination

In 2018’s Multicultural Work and Jobs Study conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 61% of adults over the age of 45 report they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Age discrimination was seen as a widespread practice by 38% of the respondents.

In the survey, approximately 35% of American workers were 50 years old or older. Despite seniors taking up a substantial portion of the labor force, this survey reinforces the existence of the same issues that spurred the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) to be passed. The ADEA was set in place to regulate all employment aspects, including:

  • Hiring
  • Training
  • Assignments
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Promotions
  • Firing
  • Layoffs

Workers aged 40 and up are protected under the ADEA. To determine if age discrimination has occurred, the following criteria must be proven:

  1. The claimant who was employed or seeking employment has to be in the protected age class
  2. Employees must have experienced an unfavorable employment action solely because of their age
  3. Qualified to do the job
  4. The position or employment opportunity was given to a younger candidate

The act was set in place to refute several negative assumptions concerning age and job performance. These assumptions include:

  • Older workers resist change
  • Older workers are less productive
  • Older workers get sick more and raise healthcare costs

Age discrimination is often difficult to prove because employers frequently hide their actions by providing other reasons besides age for that action. More than 90% of the survey’s respondents would support efforts to strengthen age discrimination laws. Almost 60% strongly believe a change should occur, and 32% agreed something should be done to improve the laws.

In California, the median age of the workforce is 36.7. This is only a few years down the road from the protected age. Californians are also protected by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The ADEA applies to employers that have 20 or more workers. Under FEHA, the law covers even smaller employers with a minimum of five workers.

The survey also showed women, African Americans, Hispanics, and older unemployed individuals who were seeking jobs were more inclined to feel like they had been or would be subject to age discrimination.

Even though age discrimination is so common, little has been documented because few people ever make official complaints. Only 3% of the survey’s respondents had filed claims about age discrimination.

The New Workforce, Same as the Old Workforce

There was a significant increase in ADEA lawsuits in 2022. The reasons for the litigious uptick rely on two major changes in the workforce:

  1. An increase in the average retirement age
  2. Technological changes and digital skill requirements often associated with younger candidates

People are living longer, and with advancements in medical technology, this trend will continue. A workforce that lives longer will need reliable jobs to both support themselves and thrive in the future. More than 40% of the American workforce are aged 45+ and a long way from retiring.

There are several reasons for people working longer. In some cases, workers need to support family members. Sometimes, they need to save more money for retirement. Some people just want to work because it keeps them mentally and physically active.

Working past retirement age also allows for a less financially restrictive lifestyle. More than 25% of those surveyed think they will never fully stop working.

Older workers also create continuity and stability in the workforce. More than a third of older workers will stick with their current job longer than younger workers. A third of those surveyed thought the reason they may get laid off is because of their age, and 45% thought if they were laid off, they would not be able to secure a new position because of their age.

Let an experienced lawyer from Asbill Law Group help you understand your legal options. Contact us online or by calling 916-877-4227.