The Wall Street Journal says that many employers, having to lay off workers, find it a safer move, legally, to target young workers. Why? Older workers can sometimes file age-discrimination complaints and lawsuits.
While younger workers tend to earn the lowest salaries, making them the least-expensive workers to retain, companies are becoming wary of laying off older, better-paid workers.
“Companies don’t like [layoffs by seniority], but [they’re] also the easiest to defend,” says Gerald Hathaway, co-chairman of the business-restructuring practice group with employment law firm Littler Mendelson. “If you have a bona fide seniority system it’s a defense for any type of discrimination,” according to the law, he adds.
This is particularly true in the education field, where many colleges and schools are taking measures to protect tenured teachers and professors. David Schauer, superintendent of Kyrene Elementary School District No. 28 in Tempe, Ariz., sent layoff notices to 68 teachers in anticipation of budget cuts. The cuts target only first-year continuing teachers, most of whom are in their 20s, says Mr. Schauer. “My worst fear is that really good people will leave teaching,” he says.
Nicole Ryan, a 24-year-old sixth-grade math teacher for Fox Lane Middle School, in Bedford, N.Y., received such a layoff notice. The notice was sent out to teachers and staff based on their seniority. So, despite strong performance reviews, budget cuts mean she may not have a job to return to in the fall. “I knew it was coming because, based on seniority, I was lower on the totem pole,” she says. “It didn’t make it any easier.”
As the article makes clear, a seniority system exists in many kinds of workplaces. It’s especially unfortunate to see it in schools, considering the powerful effects of a teacher.
“With Jobs Scarce, Age Becomes an Issue,” Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2009.