Thirty-two Years Discounted!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about age discrimination: I’m over fifty and too young for retirement. They have me sitting in a room ten hours each day doing entry-level work.

The volatility of the U.S. economy is taking a large toll in the workplace. Mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations and staff reductions create a chaotic work world around us. We no longer understand the forces behind company decisions. In general, how do employees maintain their enthusiasm in the workplace, while coping with the stress of antiquated changes? These changes raise the question of fairness, and the terrible helpless feeling of the system failing us. Focusing on the situation of a current position and reassignment can overwhelm many workers.

The question we all ask: “Is the unanticipated change wrongful?” Promises by past management that achieving requested educational goals to maintain your current position and having effectively achieved outstanding yearly reviews, are ignored. Your situation suddenly changes. How this could happen?I worked thirty-two years during which I maintained skills and achieving requested educational goals and then was told that you are not degree specific. The precious time, energy and dedication were disvalued by the decision of one new manager.

I spoke to Humans Resources and new management, and their answer is to deal with it while other positions requiring four-year degrees are being filled with non-degreed personnel. I question management’s reasoning, and am told: “To deal with it. Go back to school and maybe we might let you have your previous position” which was filled by a non-degreed person. Rationally asking “why?” does not hide the fact that unjustly my entire life’s work has been disvalued by demotion to entry-level work. Previous management has been replaced.

I’m over fifty and too young for retirement. They have me sitting in a room ten hours each day doing entry-level work. Realistically I realize new management has come in to remove the failure removed past management, and this has changed my life. I think my demotion is in retaliation to my complaints about others with less education being assigned to my kind of job. I think they have done this to force you to quit. Does my case violate any laws? I have heard of the Supreme Court ruling in Burlington Northern v. White, regarding the worker who has faced retaliation, but not fired.

Signed, Down & Demoted

Dear Down & Demoted:

I have read your question several times. You begin it with a general discussion of the changes to the working world and end with a description of your own unhappy demotion to entry-level work. In order to state your question (that suffers from composition problems that affects its clarity), I have reworded it. I have taken the time to do this, not to correct what you have written like an English teacher, but to help you make your case more effectively should you decide to do so either with your new management or with an attorney.

You have been told by new management simply to accept a demotion to data-entry work. You believe that the effort you made to earn advanced education at the request of past management and the fact that you received good performance evaluation have been discounted in that new management has assigned you to lower-level work. You also question if this might be retaliation in a similar way to Burlington Northern v. White. Your situation, however discouraging it is to you, might not fall into this kind of case. Yet it does seem unfair enough that I think you should consult with local attorneys who specialize in labor law. Most attorneys will not charge for a consultation and will tell you if you have a case.

It is natural to talk with co-workers, friends and family about what bothers you and that might help alive your stress if done in a limited private way. But my advice is not to talk and talk this endlessly. Rather while seeking an attorney, do not gossip about your situation with co-workers or inform your current management that you are seeking help from an attorney. I cannot know from what you say how you have communicated with your new management about your assignment to entry-level work. Did you privately meet with a supervisor and present a written statement along with a careful face-to-face explanation as to why you think this assignment is unfair or did you simply complain about it in an off-hand way?

Whatever way you complained, apparently you were told to deal with it; that that is the way it is in today’s world of work. From what you say you also were told that the education you got at the request of past management does not apply to the job-specific needs now and that possibly what you need is more job-specific education. That may be true in spite of your over 50 age. Re-training and re-adjusting to new assignments several times in a working lifetime is a fact for most of us. BUT I would not accept their deal with it and retraining mandate without first making your case with your current management and investigating if you have a case with an attorney.

If this makes sense to you, prepare a written account of your situation. In that don’t philosophize about the changing world of work as you have in this e-mail. Rather state your years of employment with this company, explain the promises made that went with taking advanced education, list and copy the satisfactory performance evaluations, and make a concise argument that you should not have been assigned to entry-level work. I would take this statement to an attorney and ask her/his advice about whether you should also include a paragraph in which you argue that your assignment to data entry work appears to be designed to make you quit and is discriminatory because of your age. Upon the attorney’s advice, you probably should make several copies of this statement and submit this to HR and to top management.

Now if you systematically pursue this matter and it fails, you must then decide if you will become soured on life and bitterly continue in data entry work. To do bitterly do so will eat at you until you are in ill health. To do so with a positive attitude, all the while applying in house for a transfer to a job you find more suited to your liking, can make life tolerable if not happy. Another alternative is to seek work elsewhere and/or to launch a self-employed job. Along these lines you might find the advice of interest in our Q&A “I Went To College For This!” Please keep us informed of what you elect to do and how it works out. Life is not fair and learning to cope with that in the workplace is why unions were formed and why going solo is so difficult. We need the support of friends, family, and professionals; that’s what I mean by my signature WEGO.

William Gorden