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When are ageist slurs evidence of discrimination?

Recently the phrase “Ok, boomer” has exploded in use – with it becoming a generational put-down against older Americans who seem out of touch with issues of the day. The phrase has been used by younger generations to refer to baby boomers, who are currently 55-73 years old. This slur has now made it into every day parlance and raises an interesting employment discrimination issue. If younger workers start incorporating this turn of phrase to criticize colleagues at work, could it be considered evidence of age discrimination?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against older workers (considered over the age of 40) discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment. Similar to Title VII protections against race, gender, sex, religious and national origin discrimination, the ADEA provides remedies for older workers who face negative employment actions based on their age.

Several factors are evaluated when determining whether age discrimination occurred, however, slurs and jokes may constitute evidence of age-related harassment and bias. While saying “Ok, boomer” once may not be sufficient, use of this phrase repeatedly (or other phrases such as “old-timer” and “pops”) over time may show a culture or tolerance of age-related animus. It’s important to recognize too that use of this phrase derisively against someone who is not technically a boomer doesn’t lessen its discriminatory effect – discriminatory bias against those older than 40 is prohibited. Even though many see use of this phrase as a joke, its effect is to demean and degrade the recipient of the slur, as are similar racist and sexist “jokes.”

For more information about age discrimination or if you have suffered any type of employment discrimination, please contact the dedicated Atlanta employment discrimination lawyers at Buckley Beal, LLP for an immediate consultation.
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