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  • Writer's picturePavan Khoobchandani

Comparing Employees To Muppets And The Ford-Era Model T Is Not Smart


A BMW dealership in Ohio recently settled a case brought by the EEOC that alleged that the dealership discriminated against older employees. They dealership agreed to pay $390,000 to the three plaintiffs at issue, in addition to designating an equal employment opportunity officer, providing annual trainings (which everyone should be doing anyway) and giving periodic reports to the EEOC.


In the lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that the dealership, among other things, told two older employees:

  • that they had been around since Ford created the automobile;

  • that they were too old to relate to millennial customers;

  • that they were too set in their ways;

  • that they were too old to do their jobs; and

  • addressed them as Waldorf and Statler (the older Muppets from the balcony).

Then, they terminated the two employees, who were 67 and 70 years old.


For the other plaintiff, who was 52 years old, the allegations in the complaint were less lurid and decidedly more familiar. The complaint alleged that the dealership offered the plaintiff - who was a former employee of the dealership - a job, after which she resigned her then-current position. But then, the dealership ghosted her, ignoring all her attempts at contact, and hired a younger, less-qualified person for the position.


From my experience, a car dealership seems like a cutthroat place to work, with salespeople's incomes dependent on commissions. Plus, the internet and disrupters like CarMax have changed how people buy cars. Dealers and salespeople need to keep up. And Boomers just can't keep up with younger employees that grew up in a digital world, right? So let's get rid of 'em!


Wrong.


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. This federal law prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees.


Many states also have laws prohibiting discrimination based on age, often applying to all employers, not only those with 20 or more employees.


In this case, the complaint alleged that the two older employees that were terminated were performing according to the dealership's expectations. Had they been terminated for properly-documented performance issues, I believe the outcome would have been very, very different.


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