Age Discrimination Suits Jump, But Wins Are Elusive

by Yuki Noguchi

For older Americans looking for work, finding a job can be a tremendous challenge. Someone 55 or older will typically take three months longer to find employment than the average job seeker.

And with more people of all ages looking for work in the slow economy, age discrimination complaints are on the rise — but becoming harder to win.

Employment law experts say that has a lot to do with one particular case: Gross v. FBL Financial Services Inc.

‘Persona Non Grata’

One day in 2003, Jack Gross saw a memo detailing staffing changes at the insurance company where he worked.

“I got this ahead of time, and it just jumped off the page,” he recalls. “Everybody that they’re naming here is my age or older. Nobody under 50 was getting demoted. The only promotions were people who were basically a generation younger than us.”

Gross, 54 and a vice president at FBL Financial at the time, was among a dozen employees demoted that day. All were older workers, and all were high performers. But Gross alone decided to sue his employer for age discrimination.

“That was terrible. Once you file suit against your company, you’re pretty much persona non grata,” he says. “I felt like I was crossing enemy lines.”

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