ProPublica and the Urban Institute recently released a data analysis that paints a bleak picture for older workers in the United States. This is consistent with what we’ve been seeing in our practice, having recently filed two age discrimination lawsuits that have garnered media attention: one against Woodbury County and one against the University of Iowa.
The study found that, through 2016, “between the time older workers enter the study and when they leave paid employment, 56 percent are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily.” And recovery isn’t easy. According to the report, “[o]nly one in 10 of these workers ever again earns as much as they did before their employment setbacks, our analysis showed. Even years afterward, the household incomes of over half of those who experience such work disruptions remain substantially below those of workers who don’t.”
Of course, both state and federal laws prohibit age discrimination. However, the study makes it pretty clear that age discrimination still happens. And while a worker who brings an age discrimination case is required to mitigate (or minimize) his or her damages and find other work, one bright spot is that judges interpreting the law seem to understand how difficult it is for older workers to totally mitigate their damages. Workers are not required to go into another line of work, accept a demotion, or take a demeaning position. Rather, they must engage in “an honest effort to find substantially equivalent work.” Heaton v. Weitz Co., Inc., 2007 WL 2034370, *8 (N.D. Iowa, July 13, 2007). See also Hunter v. Bd. of Trustees of Broadlawns Med. Ctr., 481 N.W.2d 510, 517 (Iowa 1992) (reasonable but unsuccessful efforts to mitigate loss do not preclude a plaintiff from recovering for future wages); Conrad v. Iowa Cent. Community College, 2008 WL 2746324, *3 (Iowa Ct. App., July 16, 2008) (after employee’s termination, she sought similar positions but none were available).
In real person (not legalese) terms, one worker quoted in the report says it best:
“My skills are in high demand,” he said. “But what’s not in high demand is me, a 50-year-old dude!”
If you’re an older worker and you feel you have been demoted or forced out of your job because of your age, reach out to us. We’re here for you.