Last week a 66 year old man who worked for Staples was awarded a $26 million jury verdict in an age discrimination and harassment suit, $22.8 of which was in punitive damages. According to the lawsuit, Bobby Nickel was regularly called an “old goat,” and “old coot,” and was asked by his manager to resign but refused. He was also targeted for discipline in a way his younger co-workers weren’t, including being suspended for taking a $.68 bell pepper from the cafeteria (talk about being “nickel” and dimed). The jury concluded his 2011 termination was based on his age, and sent the strongest damages message in L.A. county history in a discrimination suit.
Takeaways: (1) Do not tolerate, encourage or participate in age-based jokes, however innocuous they may seem. (2) Make sure discipline is meted out in a consistent way so it cannot later be said to have been based on a protected category.