“There are too many old men … and they should all retire”'

Yep, that was what allegedly was said to a former University of Pittsburgh business professor who sought to take tuition-covered coursework towards a doctoral degree.  At least that’s what he alleges in in a newly-filed federal Age Discrimination In Employment Act (“ADEA”) and state law complaint. 

As well as “the money invested to provide additional training and education would be better spent on someone not at an ‘advanced stage of [their] career.'”

His attorney correctly noted that “”Nowadays, you don’t always hear the direct discrimination and ageist comments of, ‘advanced stage of your career’, ‘you should retire. I think this is just blatant.”

Ya think?

I have written – too many times! — about coded language, often used by “clever” employers in the context of discrimination cases. That is, language which might be understood or construed as standing in for direct evidence of racial or sexist or ageist animus.

For example, I summarized a few years’ worth of such age cases awhile ago and the coded language used, which bears repeating here to remind us what fairly blatant coded language is:

“Perhaps some employers think that they can escape being caught discriminating against older people if they code their language. Or maybe they are just used to making ageist comments because they have, as the EEOC has said, ‘outdated prejudices and biases.’ Either way, these comments may be seen as code words, or perhaps in political parlance — ‘dog-whistle’ expressions, which are designed to ‘convey a predetermined meaning to a receptive audience, while remaining inconspicuous to the uninitiated.’ “For example, you do not call an employee ‘old’ or ‘ancient’ (I once had a case where the boss referred to another employee of the same age as the one he fired as “ancient”) since that is direct evidence of age discrimination. You stay away from calling an employee ‘old school,’ or ‘set in his ways,’ or ‘not a proper fit for the “new environment,’ or ‘lacking in energy.’ And, of yes, ‘Hang up your Superman Cape,’ and ‘get it together you f…. old people’ should also be avoided (although the latter remark can hardly be considered particularly well “coded”).” The same with ‘looks old,’ ‘sounds old on the telephone,’ and is ‘like a bag of bones.’”

In the new case, he complained of age discrimination some time ago and claims now that his teaching assignments became less and less, due, he was told, to “a ‘desire for greater diversity.'”

Finally, he alleges that “the school gave his office to a younger employee,” and last year “he was removed from the teaching schedule for some periods and given one class in another semester.”

The University would not comment.

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]