According to the Wall Street Journal, discrimination filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) went up 15 percent in 2008 compared to 2007, and age discrimination suits in particular showed a dramatic 29 percent increase over the previous year.  Click here to read the WSJ Article

The conventional wisdom is that discrimination claims go up in a down economy — more people lose their jobs through layoffs or heightened performance standards, and a certain percentage of those affected will file discrimination claims.  That doesn’t necessarily explain the spike in certain types of claims, however, such as the recent increase in age discrimination claims. 

So why the spike in claims? It could be as simple as an aging workforce, but we suspect more is at work.  In a troubled economy, many employers focus their layoffs on more highly-compensated employees, and that can have a greater impact on older workers (while specifically targeting older workers for layoff is unlawful, it may be lawful to select higher-paid workers).  Also, older workers have a harder time finding replacement employment, and that might lead them to file claims against their former employers rather than move on.

These are challenging times for employers, and now more than ever it pays to be careful when conducting layoffs and terminations.