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Court: One ageist comment not enough to establish discrimination

As regular readers of our Milwaukee employment law blog know, it’s never appropriate for an employer or supervisor to deny a job or a promotion on the basis of a person’s age. It’s just as inappropriate to fire someone or demote them because of their age.

It’s also wrong for employers and supervisors to age ageist comments in the workplace. However, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois recently held that a single ageist remark was inadequate for a worker to prevail in an age discrimination lawsuit.

A 54-year-old Costco worker filed suit claiming discrimination and retaliation under Age Discrimination in Employment Act. She was supervised by a 57-year-old manager who she said yelled out “nasty” and “intimidating” comments about her pace of work. The manager apparently told one of the plaintiff’s co-workers that he was “surprised that (Costco) didn’t hire someone younger” when the plaintiff began her employment.

However, the co-worker also said that the manager was unpleasant to all the workers and sometimes yelled at them in efforts to get them to work faster.

In this case, the court held that the manager was apparently abrasive with all the workers and had not singled out the plaintiff because of her age. In the decision, the court noted that the single “age-based comment” was not said to the woman and “did not contain any prejudiced views or derogatory slurs.” For that reason, the court determined that the manager had not harassed the worker “because of (her) age.”

Of course, in another context a single comment that is clearly discriminatory could be enough for a worker to establish that he or she was in a hostile work environment. So employers should not interpret the decision in this case as an opening of floodgates allowing discrimination and retaliation.

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