Age stereotype precludes summary judgment

stereotypes-150x150The Eighth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment in Hilde v. City of Eveleth, February 5, 2105, finding that the employer’s assumption that a retirement-eligible applicant would retire if hired for a job was age discrimination on its face.

To assume that Hilde was uncommited to a position because his age made him retirement-eligible is age-stereotyping that the ADEA prohibits. It is the very essence of age discrimination for an older employee to be fired because the employer believes that productivity and competence decline with old age. he prohibited stereotype—older employees are likely to be less committed to a job because they can retire at any time—figured in the City’s decision. Using retirement eligibility to presuppose lowered productivity or dedication would not represent an accurate judgment about the employee unless evidence other than age indicates that the employee would, in fact, retire.

The City provides no evidence that the commissioners doubted Hilde’s commitment to the job for any reason but for his age-based retirement eligiblity. They admit he had a great reputation in the force and they held his continued service in the highest regard. The City argues that Hilde should have convinced them that though retirement eligible, he would not retire. According to Commissioner England:

I would have appreciated something out of [Hilde], some indication that he wanted this job and was willing to commit for at least some period of time. By not telling us anything, now you’re thinking in your mind, what’s this guy thinking, what’s he doing. If he gets the Chief’s job, he’s just going to take it and that’s going to be a feather in his hat and he’s going to pull the trigger and retire? I would have liked some commitment out of the guy.

The commissioners apparently never asked about his commitment to the job or whether he was considering retirement.

Lesson for employers: Use employee-specific facts, not unfounded, category-based assumptions, in making employment decisions.

Older worker stereotypes deeply entrenched

Common stereotypes about older workers include unwarranted assumptions that older workers are tired, grumpy, more costly, harder to train, less adaptable, less motivated, less flexible, more resistant to change, and less energetic than younger employees. These stereotypes stem from depictions of older persons in society generally. Employers also may be reluctant to invest in training and other developmental opportunities for older workers based on the perception that they have less time remaining in their careers. While extensive research has shown that these negative age-based stereotypes have little basis in fact, they influence many employment decisions. For instance, as a result of these stereotypes, older persons with the same or similar qualifications typically receive lower ratings in interviews and performance appraisals than younger counterparts (and thus are apt to have more trouble finding or keeping a job or securing a promotion). Older workers also typically are rated as having less potential for development than younger workers, and thus are given fewer training and development opportunities. Age-based stereotypes disadvantage older workers in corporate downsizing situations in particular. Because the main goal of such downsizing is usually to cut costs, age-based stereotypes that older workers are more costly, harder to train, less flexible, or less competent may become much more prominent in the minds of the decision-makers. To make matters worse, once older workers are laid off, they often are again vulnerable to age-based stereotyping as they attempt to find new jobs. As we have previously written, older workers who have been laid off are less likely to obtain reemployment than younger workers, take longer to find new jobs than younger workers, and generally fail to obtain jobs paying the same wages as their previous positions.

 

Think you’re immune to implicit bias? Think again.

It is well known that people don’t always “speak their minds.”‘  Social scientists have long suspected, and now proven, that people don’t always “know their mind” because stereotypes and implicit biases operate below the level of conscious awareness. Researchers at Harvard have developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure the way subconscious beliefs and associations differ, often radically, from those that operate on the level of conscious thought.  The links below will take you to the IATs.  They don’t take long, and you might be surprised what you learn.

Select a Test

Age (‘Young – Old’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to distinguish old from young faces. This test often indicates that Americans have automatic preference for young over old.
Religion (‘Religions’ IAT). This IAT requires some familiarity with religious terms from various world religions.
Disability (‘Disabled – Abled’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to recognize symbols representing abled and disabled individuals.
Sexuality (‘Gay – Straight’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to distinguish words and symbols representing gay and straight people. It often reveals an automatic preference for straight relative to gay people.
Weapons (‘Weapons – Harmless Objects’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to recognize White and Black faces, and images of weapons or harmless objects.
Presidents (‘Presidential Popularity’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to recognize photos of Barack Obama and one or more previous presidents.
Skin-tone (‘Light Skin – Dark Skin’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to recognize light and dark-skinned faces. It often reveals an automatic preference for light-skin relative to dark-skin.
Gender – Science. This IAT often reveals a relative link between liberal arts and females and between science and males.
Native American (‘Native – White American’ IAT).This IAT requires the ability to recognize White and Native American faces in either classic or modern dress, and the names of places that are either American or Foreign in origin.
Asian American (‘Asian – European American’ IAT).This IAT requires the ability to recognize White and Asian-American faces, and images of places that are either American or Foreign in origin.
Weight (‘Fat – Thin’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of people who are obese and people who are thin. It often reveals an automatic preference for thin people relative to fat people.
Arab-Muslim (‘Arab Muslim – Other People’ IAT).This IAT requires the ability to distinguish names that are likely to belong to Arab-Muslims versus people of other nationalities or religions.
Gender – Career. This IAT often reveals a relative link between family and females and between career and males.
Race (‘Black – White’ IAT). This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of European and African origin. It indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black.