Discrimination for All

How old is old? I, for example, maintain my youthful good looks despite being 66. I like to think I’m just one six away from being devilish. I don’t feel old, but as someone who reads lawsuits and court rulings, I do realize that people a lot younger than me seem to think they’re victims of age discrimination.

Maybe they are, but at what age did the discrimination kick in?

I bring this up in light of a Third Circuit ruling last week called Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, which answers an interesting question: Can you exclude younger older people from a group of employees to determine whether a company has committed age discrimination?

According to the ruling, courts are split on this topic.

The plaintiffs in this case sued on behalf of workers 50 and older, under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects people over 40.

This strikes me as slightly odd and arbitrary to begin with – anything goes if you’re 39, but once you have that 40th birthday bash the feds are here to protect you.

What employer is suddenly going to hate a worker who was 39 a day ago? Wasn’t the 39-year-old equally annoying and incompetent?

I think workers ought to be protected from discrimination individually, regardless of age. It’s much more logical.

Be that as it may, the issue in the Third Circuit case was how to look at the defendant company’s statistics. Do you use employment numbers for workers 40 years old and up – the people protected by that federal law – or do you confine the stats to 50-plus workers?

Apparently, it makes a big difference – “because the (company) policy favored younger members of the protected class, adding those individuals to the comparison group washes out the statistical evidence of a disparity.”

Imagine if they’d included workers in their 20s and 30s.

Or limited the analysis to guys over 70.

What I love about this is that the statistics can work both ways. This is from a footnote in the ruling: “Ironically, mandating a forty-and-older sample has the potential to harm employers in certain circumstances. For example, if a substantial disparate impact is experienced only by individuals sixty-five and older, the effect can show up in the forty-and-older aggregate statistic, creating the misimpression that forty-year-old plaintiffs were disparately impacted.”

Numbers are wonderful things.

I don’t dislike math – it was one of my best subjects when I was a wee tot – but I have trouble with line-drawing and categorization. The trouble deciding between old and young is tough enough, but consider race and sex.

Why do we have laws against race and sex discrimination?

Aren’t those laws discriminatory?

If I’m being discriminated against, do I have to belong to a race or a sex so I can sue?

Of course I do, because we all have races and sexes. (Even the space aliens among us have races. I’m not sure about sexes.)

But a race and sex shouldn’t be mandatory.

Over the years, I’ve seen discrimination lawsuits on behalf of pretty much every race, sex and sexual orientation — even the supposedly popular ones like white, straight and ready-to-fool-around.

So why do we need the categories and groups? If your boss has been mean to you, you should be able to sue no matter who you are or why the boss has decided he or she hates you.

We need laws barring universal discrimination against anything. It’s the only non-discriminatory way to handle this problem.

If a company can’t treat everyone equally badly, then it deserves to be hauled into court.

Fairness for everyone.