Work & Money

Workplace Woes: Mediation for Age Discrimination


You’ve been denied a promotion at work in favor of a younger candidate. You’ve lost your job and don’t really know why. You feel you’re being treated unfairly.

When you’re older, your first thought in the face of these apparent injustices tends to be, “Whoa! Is this age discrimination?”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3.4 million employees or 11.5 percent of the workforce was 65 years of age and older in the year 2000.  By 2009, that number had increased to 6 million or 16.1 percent of the workforce.  (Click to see Census Bureau charts on the aging workforce.)

As the workplace aged and the economy tanked, age discrimination cases increased.

Given the employment landscape, if you suspect discrimination – and especially if you’ve been laid off – your inclination might be to file a lawsuit against your employer. Your likely first step: call a lawyer, who is likely to tell you that you might have a case.

But you could take a different route: mediation. Amy Lieberman, an employment lawyer and full-time mediator in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the author of “Mediation Success: Get It Out, Get It Over, and Get Back to Business,” says age-discrimination lawsuits can cost more than $100,000 and drag on for years.  “Litigation is costly and destructive,” she says, “but mediation is an alternative that will save all parties money, lessen the emotional damage, and reduce conflict.”

How Mediation Works

When it works, which mediators say is between 90 and 95 percent of the time, the process speeds up resolution.  It’s a process in which the employer and employee sit down together and then apart to work toward a solution with a neutral third party acting as a go-between.

“People who do best in mediation,” says Bette Roth, a former lawyer and now a full-time mediator and lecturer at Boston University School of Law, “are those who are willing to listen to the other side, can be flexible, and are focused on ways that a resolution could help them to move forward.”

Lieberman says educated, informed people will choose to resolve a conflict in mediation if they can come away feeling whole and respected.  Sometimes, she says, the party that feels harmed is simply looking for an apology or recognition of worth. “A lawsuit is a ‘win-lose’ proposition,” says Lieberman, “and while mediation may not be a ‘win-win,’” she continues, it’s a ‘can live with-can live with’ opportunity to be heard and understood.”

How to Get Started

If you’re still employed and your company has a human resources department, you should notify HR of your complaint.  The law obligates them to investigate.  You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  In every case, the first step is to file a complaint.  Be aware, though, that once you’ve accepted a severance package, the case is closed and mediation is no longer an option.

But Wait – Is This Really Discrimination?

Much as you might suspect discrimination, it’s hard to take any action to protect yourself when you’re not really sure. So, how do you know if what you’re experiencing probably is discriminatory? Here are some things to watch for.

  • Have you seen a pattern of older people being displaced by younger workers?
  • Has your work evaluation gone from excellent to not very good?
  • Has your salary been lowered, or have you repeatedly been passed over in favor of younger people for the promotion you know you deserve?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, you may indeed be experiencing age discrimination at work.

For more information and to search for a professional mediator, click here to visit the mediate website.

Have you ever suspected you’re being discriminated against at work? Got any tips? Share your knowledge in the comments area by scrolling down.


8 responses to “Workplace Woes: Mediation for Age Discrimination

  1. Senior Planet. Is the best thing I’ve done for myself in years.

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  2. I retired from the Auto Business after 25 years and in that time I achieved much success, I even went on to own11 major new car franchises. I retired in 2002 and after 11 years I was ask if I would like to return to the business. I gave it some thought and returned as a sales person. At the end of a one week training IO had chest pains and had to schedule a Dr visit. I had 90% blockage in the main artery and had to have emergency. Upon returning to work I was informed I had been terminated, while I was in Hospital. The General Sales Manager that was not the one that hied me said,” Let’s be honest, this is a young man’s gig and I do not think you can handle it’ I ask him to reconsider and he said his mind was made up, he did wish me luck.

  3. I am a dental hygienist. I worked for a dentist for 2 years making 3 dollars less per hour then my regular pay. I thought after I proved myself that would change. 2 years later no raise. She bought another practice patients and along with that got their Hygienist too. That Hygienist was younger, less experienced and less education. She was paid $3. more per hour. I asked for equal pay and was told no. The patients I had, had poor insurance. The Dr. even asked me to train the other Hygienist to do things the way I did. My work days went from 3 to 2 when that Hygienist started. She left a year ago and when I asked for equal pay it was denyed again. Two months ago the Dr. said that some younger patients who were called to see why they were going elsewhere said they didn’t like me. The Dr. said the younger patients were where her profits were. It is common for patients to not like the Hygienist or the Dr. for one reason or another. We can’t please everyone. People generally say very nice things about me. I take a lot of pride in the service that I provide to people. In 4 years I never had a job review, a raise or medical benefits. I work 4 to 7 hours straight with no breaks. Even being pressure to do some other work when a break could have happened. I was given a Christmas bonus and was thanked for my hard work. Two weeks ago at the end of the day she said this will come as a surprise but I am letting you go. Stating the same thing about younger patients and that I was close to retirement. I asked if we could work this out and she said no that she hired someone else. I expect a fight for my unemployment.

    1. Becky, my heart goes out to you. Maybe there’s a silver lining for you, because I think the medical and dental fields are better than most,for older people to find work. If you want to work, you should try to find another position. No guarantee of success, but you may as well try it.

  4. in the past 6mos i have applied to 32 job postings..and at my current employer (i am temping) they blatantly said OUT LOUD TO US that they need younger people in our area..really? i am only 45 and prematurely gray but folks assume i am older..what’s the actual problem? managers afraid they are INCOMPETENT AND I CAN DO YOUR JOB BETTER THAN YOU??? think about it..

    1. Betty, that’s a shame. You’re young (compared to me). I’d hate to suggest dyeing hair, because that’s personal–but it might help you, being young still.

      I understand that new graduates are also having a hard time finding work. What are these companies looking for–only 25 to 30 year olds? I also have heard that some places are hiring only temps and part-timers in anticipation of Obamacare.

  5. This and other articles focus on people being fired. But what about the 65 year old who wants to work and is looking for a job? Try proving age discrimination in hiring–good luck! It’s a damn shame our society treats us older folks like pieces of garbage.

    1. Markpa, agreed. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is set up to protect people in job searches as well as in jobs – but it’s very hard to prove. And it’s pretty terrible being out of work AND being made to feel like a piece of garbage.

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