When one hears the word “Hawaii,” images of an idyllic place come to mind – beautiful beaches, lush landscapes, coconut trees and luaus attended by people in brightly colored shirts and leis. Most people don’t think about the everyday occurrences like home maintenance, grocery shopping and going to work. But people who live there deal with the same situations that we do here in Kentucky, including workplace issues like discrimination.
In a recent case, a 54-year-old woman was fired from her job with a home health care company in 2008. She was an office coordinator at one of their facilities and was considered a good employee by the facility’s manager. The owner of the company told the manager that the plaintiff “looks old…sounds old on the telephone,” and looks “like a bag of bones.” Per the owner’s order, the manager fired the employee, then she told her about the owner’s comments after the termination. The wrongfully terminated employee contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and filed a complaint. The EEOC agreed that age discrimination had occurred and filed a lawsuit against the company and its owner.
A U.S. District Judge in Honolulu also agreed that the company and the owner were guilty of age discrimination and awarded the fired employee over $193,000. In addition to the award, the company also has to take several steps to ensure age discrimination does not occur there again. Training must be provided to the employees on how to file a claim if they feel they have been discriminated against, and supervisors and managers will be trained on how to handle a situation if an employee says they have experienced discrimination. The company is required to post a notice regarding this judgment and must retain an outside equal opportunity specialist to help with the above requirements.
Unfortunately age discrimination can happen anywhere. The EEOC defines age discrimination as “treating someone (an applicant or employee) less favorably because of his age.” The federal law only applies to those workers who are over 40, and Kentucky does not currently have a state law that protects workers under 40 like some other states do. Age discrimination can take a couple of forms, both of which are illustrated in the case above. An applicant can’t be refused a position, and a current employee cannot be denied promotions, pay increases, or be terminated because of age. In the case above, the employee was seemingly fired simply because of her age. There did not seem to be any other issues with her work ethic or ability. A second type of age discrimination occurs when disparaging remarks are made regarding an employee’s age. Occasional teasing or a single comment does not constitute age discrimination by itself. But referring to someone as a “bag of bones” and saying she looks and sounds old, which is what happened in the case discussed, sounds discriminatory.
Even in this tough economy, Kentucky workers over the age of 40 should not put up with discrimination in the workplace. If they feel they are being treated unfairly, they should contact a Kentucky employment law attorney to discuss the situation and determine what action should be taken.
Court Orders Hawaii HealthCare Professionals and Its Owner to Pay over $190,000 for Age Discrimination; EEOC Press Release; July 19, 2012