Now Outlaw Age Harassment
billing department of Medina General Hospital in Ohio was plagued by what
a federal court judge ultimately called a "deep morale problem."
While many American workers might claim that such a phrase could describe
their own workplace as well, Medina's "deep morale problem"
prompted a lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Mary Ann Crawford worked in the billing department for nearly 27 years,
having started there when she was 28. At 55, however, Ms. Crawford complained
of continuous harassment in the workplace--by both her supervisor and
her co-workers--over her age.
For instance, Ms. Crawford overheard the supervisor tell office employees
that "old people should be seen and not heard." Others reported
that the supervisor had volunteered she did not "think women over
55 should be working."
While Ms. Crawford felt "embarrassed" and "humiliated"
by her supervisor's remarks, she complained that other "older ladies"
in the billing department were equally "miserable" over statements
by their younger co-workers. According to Ms. Crawford, one co-worker
referred to an area of the office where older employees worked as "the
old side, the dumb side, worthless side."
In enacting the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Congress announced--among
other things--that "older workers find themselves disadvantaged in
their efforts to retain employment," and "the setting of arbitrary
age limits...has become a common practice."
Congress further declared that the Act's purpose was to "promote
employment of older persons based on ability rather than age," prevent
"arbitrary age discrimination in employment," and "help
employers and workers find ways of meeting problems arising from the impact
of age on employment."
Under the Act, an employer may not discharge, refuse to hire, or otherwise
discriminate against any individual over 40 regarding "compensation,
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual's
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act became law in 1967. That same
year, Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits
employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national
origin. Since Title VII's enactment, the law has recognized race-, religious-
and sex-based harassment in the workplace as a form of illegal discrimination.
An employer may be held liable for "the practice of creating a working
environment heavily charged" with unlawful discrimination under Title
Prior to the Crawford decision, court judgments against employers over
hostile environment had been limited to Title VII discrimination--namely,
race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Ms. Crawford's claim
of age discrimination, however, arose under the Age Discrimination in
Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals found enough similarity between the
Act and Title VII to hold that harassment based on age might constitute
unlawful discrimination in the workplace.
It seems likely that the Sixth Circuit's rationale in Crawford will guide
courts in other jurisdictions as they address claims of age harassment.
In the meantime, employers will no doubt encourage supervisors to be sensitive
to employees' age-related comments that could create a discriminatorily
in the Spring 1997 Edition of In Brief