Russell Maisano talks about the relationships he’s forged over the years.
The Michigan man, who built a career selling cars and then managing others, says it’s the rapport with his customers that keeps them coming back. Why sell someone just one car, when you can sell them 10 over the years? he asks.
That sales wisdom comes from 37 years in the business at a Macomb County, Mich., car dealership, but Maisano, 59, has been without a job since January when he was fired as he was home battling a rare form of throat cancer.
“I was looking forward to going back to work. It was my whole life,” said Maisano, whose firing prompted an outpouring of support and outrage on Facebook as well as a GoFundMe effort to cover his medical expenses. Maisano, who has sued the dealership, contends the family-owned business wanted to rid the company of its older employees to reduce the cost of insurance premiums.
Although the details of Maisano’s case are unique, claims of work-related age discrimination in the United States are not.
In 2016, the most recent full year available, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 20,857 claims of violations under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. It was the ninth year in a row that the number of claims has exceeded 20,000, with the highest number in 2008 as the effects of the Great Recession began to truly take hold.
Claims of work-related age discrimination can involve any aspect of employment and can be difficult to prove, according to AARP.
A current federal court lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles alleges that the company used an evaluation system adversely affecting older workers.
That system, according to the suit by current and former employees, used employee photos and other information indicating how long the workers had been with the company in determining bonuses and other factors.
The company tried to force the case to arbitration, a common venue for age discrimination claims, as well as have it dismissed, but a federal district judge in Detroit issued a ruling late last year allowing the case involving four plaintiffs in their late 50s and early 60s to move forward. The company has denied wrongdoing.
Older workers say age discrimination is simply a reality.
“Nearly two in three older workers believe that age discrimination exists in the workplace and those who believe so say it is common. Some 16 percent perceive that employers treat them worse on the job because of their age, up from 12 percent in 2007,” according to results from a 2014 AARP survey.
“The ageist stereotypes have grown over time,” said Royal Oak, Mich., attorney Michael Pitt. “One of the most prevalent is that older employees aren’t as adept as other employees when it comes to digital matters.” Such attitudes mask the reality that many older workers manage technology just fine, experts say.
Age discrimination concerns are also not limited to any particular industries.
Patrick Button, of Tulane University, was part of a research project last year that looked at callback rates from resumes in various entry-level jobs. He said women seeking the positions appeared to be most affected.