Power Electronics

Is It Age Bias or Wage Bias?

In March 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court began reviewing an age discrimination case brought by former Florida Power Corp. employees who claimed their dismissal was age related. They said it was part of a company effort to reduce salary and pension costs, because more than 70% of those laid off during a company reorganization were 40 or older. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the workers could not pursue their case under the age discrimination act. Now, the Supreme Court will make the final decision in Adams vs. Florida Power Corp., 01-584.

The origin of the case occurred from 1992 through 1996 when the St. Petersburg-based utility cut roughly one-fifth of its workforce. About 1200 Floridians lost their jobs, which led to a much sleeker company that then attracted a suitor from North Carolina. Now, a decade later the case brought by 100 ex-employees is before the Supreme Court.

Florida Power Corp. isn't the only company to lay off people during a force reduction. However, it's difficult to prove that age was a factor. It's more likely “wage” was the factor because older employees usually make more money than younger ones.

Another argument given by some employers is that older employees are not as productive as younger ones. That may be true in some cases, but there are many examples of people beyond the age of 50 who have contributed well beyond the age of 50: Lee Iacocca, John Glenn, and heart surgeon Dr. Debakey — just to name a few.

An article in the Dallas Morning News points to a situation where an engineer had his own way of preventing prospective employers from discriminating against him because of his age. He removed all traces of age from his resume, including the year he was born and the year he graduated from college. He said he got 26 messages in one day asking him about his resume. Prior to that, he got one or two responses over a long time frame. “Nothing was different except I had taken all the dates out,” the engineer noted.

Covering this subject is an article on the IT industry jobs Web site, techies.com®, entitled “Age Bias Against Techies: Brutal or ‘Baloney’?”. According to the article, “Age discrimination is a ‘significant problem’ in the technology industries, said more than two-thirds of tech professionals over 45 in a new survey conducted by techies.com.”

This survey, conducted in January 2001, involved 1,027 tech industry workers ranging in age from 18 to over 55. “Overall, 40% of the survey's respondents felt that age discrimination is a pervasive and significant problem in the IT industry. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed said they had witnessed or experienced an office incident of age bias.”

I have personally seen age discrimination of a different kind while working for a large aerospace company. It usually turned out that if you had not achieved at least a mid-level management position by the age of 40, it was unlikely that you ever would. I suspect this is still generally true.

Many questions are emerging from arguments about age discrimination — particularly now when companies are cutting back during business downturns. I've heard of cases that some companies have had reductions in force, singling out those who were among the highest paid and replacing them with younger people making less money.

What's your take on “age” or “wage” discrimination? Send your comments to [email protected].

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