Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality

By Raymond F. Gregory | Go to book overview

Six
Discrimination against
Older Women

The provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act make it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of age against any worker age forty and over. 1 In the business world, middle age arrives earlier for women than for men, and women are considered “old” at a younger age than men. 2 Men generally first experience the effects of age-discriminatory practices and policies in their mid-fifties, while women commonly first become aware of agebiased employment decisions that adversely affect their work lives in their midto late forties. The appearance of middle age in a woman is often looked upon as either a disqualification for further advancement or a reason for her dismissal. Gray hair may be appropriate for male CEOs and other highly placed male executives, but not for older female workers.

Middle-aged and older women comprise a steadily increasing share of the workforce. Sex- and age discrimination claims asserted by women in these age groups generally relate to one of two workplace events—a failure to promote or an untimely dismissal. The typical failure-to-promote case involves an older woman passed over in favor of a younger man. The typical termination case involves the discharge of an older woman—purportedly justified on the ground of poor performance, despite many years of satisfactory performance evaluations—in favor of the retention of a less qualified younger man.

Data assembled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show that women between the ages of forty and forty-nine are more likely than women in other age groups to file claims alleging both age and sex discrimination. 3 Women over the age of fifty, on the other hand, are more apt to claim

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