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Sterling Employment Law

A new twist on an old issue -- ageism

In our society, ageism is unlawful. An employer in Detroit, for example, could not look at an applicant's gray hair, think he is too old and refuse to hire him on that basis. Nor could he fire an employee simply for being too old; that would be age-based discrimination. Then again, it is just a fact that some tasks cannot be performed by people who are too young or too old. The demands of the job would mean it would be unwise to have a 90-year-old on active firefighting duty, for example.

This contrast is brought into light by a somewhat quirky development in a New York ageism case. There, a violinist is suing a competition called the Young Concert Artists competition, which is meant for participants who are 30 or younger. The violinist is 60 and claims he was rejected from the competition because of his age. (A judge for the competition denied this claim and said the man's performance was "unimpressive.")

In an unusual turn of events, the violinist has requested a different judge for his lawsuit because he feels the judge currently assigned to the case, who is 88, is "too old." The plaintiff claims the judge can "barely see" and has "mental and physical limitations" that prevent him from doing his job properly.

Let's set aside how funny it is that a plaintiff alleging ageism is seeking to have the judge removed for being too old and instead focus on the very real question of whether age should be a relevant factor in an employment context. If it is true that this judge is suffering from age-related restrictions that get in the way of carrying out his job, it's a good illustration of why it may not be a good idea to have age always be a no-fly zone.

Then again, if we start allowing age to be considered in some circumstances, will we slide down a slippery slope and let it be a factor in all cases?

What do you think?

Source: Newser, "Man Suing For Ageism Says His Judge Is Too Old," Evann Gastaldo, Oct. 24, 2011

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