Working Knowledge: Fighting Age Discrimination

Article excerpt

Q I was an attorney for more than 15 years, but decided to go into a field where I could feel good about helping people in a positive way. After giving it some serious thought--and reading about an impending shortage of librarians--I quit my job and went to library school, where I served as an officer in the student association, completed a practicum and internship, and maintained a strong scholastic record. Although I graduated more than a year ago, I still haven't found a full-time professional position. Because I am in my mid-50s, I am beginning to suspect that age discrimination may be a factor. Any advice?

Librarian of a Certain Age

A It certainly sounds like you did everything right to lay the foundation for a new career, but keep in mind that career changers do meet extra challenges in their job searches. As for your suspicion of age discrimination, I must admit that for most of my almost 30 years in the profession, I thought librarianship was one field where age discrimination didn't exist. I no longer feel that way today.

You've probably heard that "50 is the new 30"; but this phrase has yet to make its way over to the employment world, while, unfortunately, misperceptions of older workers have entered our profession. Older workers are unfairly viewed as unable to perform at the level of younger employees, and are often stereotyped as stubborn, inflexible, and slow to accept new technologies. They are also believed to bring higher pension, health-care, and salary requirements.

The truth is that American workers are getting older, and, as ages increase, so too will complaints of age discrimination in the workplace. Meanwhile, how can you make the best of such an environment?

* Know your rights. In 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which made it unlawful for employers to permit a worker's age to influence employment decisions (see www.eeoc.gov/facts/age.html). It protects individuals 40 years of age or older, and it applies to employers with 20 or more employees. …