Elon Musk and his companies have faced much scrutiny over the past year after the mogul announced his decision to buy Twitter and take it private. Between the various lawsuits filed by Twitter, SpaceX, and Tesla employees, it has become clear that Musk’s businesses have racial and gender discrimination problems.
To add to the pile, a former engineer at SpaceX has alleged that the company discriminated against him for his age, essentially pushing him out of the company in a process known as constructive dismissal. John Johnson, formerly a principal engineer, began his tenure at SpaceX in 2018 at age 58. According to his allegations, despite receiving consistently positive performance reviews, he was pushed out of the company in 2022.
Johnson claims that after back surgery in 2020, his responsibilities were stripped from him one by one. Tasks he enjoyed and were part of his job description were given to other workers until he had “nothing left to work on,” causing him to resign in July 2022. He alleges that this was due to his age, quoting one younger worker who shadowed him to learn how to do his job who said he might “retire or die.”
This type of constructive dismissal is often used by unscrupulous companies that want to avoid accusations of ageism or other forms of discrimination. However, it is just as illegal as any other discriminatory workplace behavior. Here’s what you need to know about age-based discrimination in the workplace, what it may look like, and how you can fight back.
Understanding Age-Related Discrimination in the Workplace
Federal law bars employers from discriminating against workers who are members of certain protected classes. These classes were initially outlined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and have since been expanded with laws like the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
Under ADEA, people aged 40 and older are considered a protected class. As with race, religion, and national origin, it is illegal to make adverse employment decisions because of this element of a person’s identity. It is just as unlawful to push someone out of a company because they are 60 years old as it is to do so because they are Jewish.
ADEA was first drafted to protect older job-seekers and workers from discriminatory behavior. Many employers view older workers as a liability due to unfair assumptions about their ability to work or the likelihood that they will retire and “waste” the company’s investment. Furthermore, many employers realize that they cannot force older workers with families to dedicate 60 hours to work every week the way they can push younger employees with less experience. These factors can make it difficult for older employees to compete on equal footing with younger workers.
Anti-age discrimination laws address that problem. Protecting people age 40 and older prevents companies from actively discriminating against them and provides workers who have been harmed by discriminatory practices grounds to seek compensation.
Common Examples of Age-Based Employment Discrimination
Age discrimination can take many forms. Like Johnson’s complaint, it may be a company pushing out older workers before they are ready to leave for no reason other than their age. It may also look like this:
- Refusing to give senior employees training opportunities because they “won’t be able to do as much with them.”
- Assuming older workers can’t understand computers and refusing to give them computer-based tasks.
- Constantly asking when an employee will retire and making them feel unwelcome.
- Refusing to promote older workers because “they’ll retire too quickly.”
- Cutting hours or firing a worker just because of their age, not their performance.
These situations have in common the assumption that the older worker is worth less due to their age.
Note that it is not illegal to take adverse employment action against someone over age 40 if it is unrelated to their age. For example, a company may fire a 50-year-old instead of a 30-year-old if the older person consistently performs worse. However, if both workers perform about equally, the older person may not be fired just because of their age.
What to Do If You’re Facing Employment Discrimination for Your Age
You have options if you have suffered from illegal employment discrimination because of your age. You can make the most of the employee protections guaranteed under federal law to pursue compensation for your losses. The best way to get started is by reaching out to knowledgeable employment law attorneys like the experts at the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman.
Once you have connected with an expert attorney, they will guide you through the process of:
- Collecting evidence: Your lawyer will assist you with gathering proof of your allegations, such as communications that demonstrate ageism, policies that favor younger workers, and witnesses who can confirm your complaints.
- Building your case: In addition, your lawyer will help you put together the legal documents and filings necessary to support your claim, whether you file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or take the case to court.
- Negotiating with your employer: In some cases, your attorney may recommend that you file a formal complaint with your employer to begin dealing with them. If so, your lawyer will represent you and pursue the best possible outcome at the negotiation table.
- Taking legal action: If negotiation fails or isn’t an option, your lawyer will help you file a lawsuit against your employer and represent you in court to hold them accountable for their actions.
At the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, P.C., we pride ourselves on helping people who have suffered from illegal employment discrimination take action against the organizations that harmed them. We are ready to act as aggressive advocates for you in court. Learn more about how we can assist you with your age discrimination claim by scheduling your consultation today.