June 30, 2023
This blog post aims to address age discrimination in the workplace and provides valuable tips on how to handle such situations. It also offers a practical example of an internal complaint that an employee could use as a reference when addressing age discrimination issues. If you need individualized legal advice, contact an experienced employment lawyer as this blog post is not legal advice.
✅ Tips for employees claiming discrimination/harassment/hostile work environment/retaliation. Further down, we include an example age discrimination complaint that would put your employer on notice and protect you from retaliation.
If you are still employed and want to file a claim for unlawful treatment before you file a third-party government complaint outside of your company (such as an EEOC Charge of Discrimination), 💡 best practices💡are to first:
▶ put your employer on notice that you feel mistreated
➕ identify your protected class
➕identify the adverse action you experienced at work (usually lost money)
➕articulate why it’s reasonable to think you experienced unlawful discrimination/harassment/hostile work environment/retaliation
➕give the employer a chance to investigate and take corrective action if needed.
No mind-reading allowed.
Most employees who complain include way too many irrelevant details. When you complain of unlawful treatment at work, get to the point and leave venting out of your complaint.
When we advise clients on making protected complaints, we tell them to keep it simple. Write like a robot. State the obvious. Don’t give the employer wiggle room to say that don’t understand what you’re complaining about. Less is usually more.
📨 EXAMPLE – a reasonable complaint that would be considered “protected activity”, prohibited from retaliation/punishment might read like this:
"I'm concerned about how my supervisor, Suzy Slithers 🐍 , is mistreating me. Slithers is 25 and I am 61. Two weeks ago she Slacked me "Hey Ryan. Today is your last day as VP of Social Media. I don't think you can keep up with the Tik Tok mobile app. My parents are also old and don't even have cell phones." I told her I know how to use the Tik Tok mobile app and she didn't believe me. She then demoted me to Marketing Associate, which pays $30k less. She also calls me "office fossil" in Slack and in group emails. I believe I am being discriminated against based on my age."
Leave out all the extra. It’s not illegal to be mean. It’s illegal to use an employee’s protected classes (race, sex, age, religion, disability, etc.) or to punish the employee for making reasonable complaints about unlawful treatment. Complaining about someone at work for being an awful person will weaken your discrimination case. If the behavior is labeled a personality conflict, rudeness or unprofessionalism, it will likely not also get a discrimination label. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by including the whole kitchen sink in your complaint. Keep it focused.
Want to see an example of a complaint that didn’t work – see this federal appellate court’s opinion – LEILA CATHERINE JOHNSON, Plaintiff – Appellant, v. GLOBAL LANGUAGE CENTER, Defendant-Appellee.: https://casetext.com/case/johnson-v-glob-language-ctr This employee’s complaint, an email, was described as a “rambling diatribe” that was not protected activity. The unprotected email complaint read as follows:
UNPROTECTED COMPLAINT UNDER FEDERAL EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION LAWS
Hope this email finds you well. I was away for a while on a great vacation, but it’s good to be back. I miss being in the classroom with my students.
I have heard a rumor that Ms. Tanya Matar is a candidate to replace one of our supervisors in the Arabic Department. Unfortunately, I feel compelled to put it on the record that I can not work under her supervision in good conscience, knowing what I know.
I am compelled to inform you of highly unethical and unprofessional behavior on Ms. Matar’s part. After that, the ball is in your court, but please understand that I fear retaliation, and I have had enough of emotional strain, I can no longer go home feeling like I did for the past two years.
My colleagues and I have been victims of continuous harassment, both sexual and emotional. We held a focus group in which we specifically asked to not have an Arabic Supervisor in the Arabic section back in June. I went to Mr. Petrosian right before I left on my vacation, expressing concern that Ms. Matar might be eligible to switch to this department and shared information with him about her behavior.
While I know that Ms. Matar has been working hard on preserving a professional image of herself, I will go ahead and tell you of what is underneath that image.
– Ms. Matar referred to her head of division, Dr. Red back then, as an “A word” (documented in a text message). She referred to one of my supervisors, Mr. Nazir, as an “A Word” (documented in a text message). At that time, I was newly employed, and I needed to trust my leadership. She referred to most of the female leadership as “Wh word” – for example Roula Hickman and Moungia (can’t remember last name), claiming they slept their way up.
– Roula Hickman and Tanya Matar were not on talking terms at the time I met Ms. Matar. She claimed that Ms. Hickman sent her an email asking her not to bother her while she worked because she loses her focus. Tanya flipped out because Roula had something “documented” on her – which was always Tanya’s fear, documentation.
– When I went to Ms. Matar after my incident of sexual assault, her being a supervisor, she advised me NOT to report it to anyone or I would get fired. She then used this incident to extract information from the involved parties.
– When I informed Ms. Tanya that Mr. Adlan was making advances on me, she went and told Roula (while still claiming they did not talk). This caused Roula (who Adlan claimed to have a 9-year affair with) to start harassing me around the department. You know the rest of that story; eventually I was sexually assaulted and emotionally harassed. I tried to address both forms of harassment and got myself fired because of it. However, to stay on point, it was Tanya, my supposed friend back then, who told Roula of Adlan’s pursuit, which put us all under insurmountable stress, eventually getting me into doctor’s offices, CAT scan, MRI testing before I was released from my job, due to stress.
– She claimed to have awarded her subordinates when she was back in ALERT to keep them “loyal”. She said that Zouheira (last name?) is her “Gossip Girl” – It is not accidental that ALL of her employees this year got awards while none of Martin’s did and only direct hires on Danusia’s team did. Ms. Matar has professionally manipulated and abused the award system. It no longer reflect [sic] ethics and hard work. The awarding system in this department is arbitrary, and alone is an issue of it’s [sic] own.
– She flirted with one of the students under her supervision back in ALERT (documented in a text message) whose wife, Stacy, was our student in the Arabic Department. Stacy suffered emotionally, and I informed Ms. Matar (all documented) that the wife is suffering because Ms. Matar was overtly, and purposefully flirting with the husband. I asked her to stop it and to be kind because the lady was becoming visually a wreck. I told Ms. Matar that although she is single, there are a lot of “fish in the sea.” I asked her to join a dating app; after all, I met my husband in that manner. She continued to mess with Stacy’s head. If you need evidence, you can reach out to the student herself, who did not file an official complaint but complained about what was happening to us. Ms Matar referred to Ms. Stacy often as a B**** -She often would counteract my proposals to tone things down with a phrase “I want to Eff with them.”
– She coached a contractor, Souraya (last name?), on her upcoming interview to become a direct hire by giving her the questions ahead of time. I know this because she told me ahead of time, and indeed, Souraya became a Training Specialist.
She informed me that she was on a panel that decides who gets hired. She would also tell me who applied for the job, and who she will definitely not consider. She mocked several people in the department often, informing me of the numerous times they applied for jobs, and how they were turned down. I can not emphasize how much she looks down on her subordinates and her
colleagues, and definitely I can not stress how many of them she dislikes. All of them are in the Arabic Department today, with the exception of Atef Nazir, whom she hates with ferver [sic]. She only respects Dr. Walid, and says that he supports her and knows that everyone else is “jealous” of her.
– She would tell me the personal information of students that she was interested in – information which I should not have had access to, such as their age, history, postings, and so on. I remember that she showed me the information of one Christopher Clark among others. Disturbing information, and misinterpretation of male students behaviors in the department. (Some is documented by text[.])
If you want, I have documented records that I can share with you. I hope that this is sufficient to make you reconsider her for this position in our department. She displays bias, prejudice, and favoritism in a professional setting. She plays the victim card to get on people’s good side but then will turn against them with silent hatred and vengeance.
When I started out, I took Tanya into my home, introduced her to my family, and met with her socially outside of work. Today, Ms. Matar does not talk to me at all. The last time she spoke to me was December 2016. She excludes me from conversations and ignores my presence entirely. I am not complaining, per se, but that dynamic would be difficult to work with if she becomes our supervisor.
I would like to ask the department to further reevaluate the training process for one to become a supervisor. This is not just a matter of worry that a person like Ms. Matar could become a supervisor here, for us. It is a worry that someone like Ms. Matar can still be a supervisor at all. We are good people, we work really hard, many of us love what they do, we deserve better. Knowing that I shared with you 10 percent of what I know. The rest I need to keep to myself, because it is uglier, and darker.
Intertwined relations and personal connections have played a long and strong hand so far in our NEA world, is it at all possible to review and re-administer professionalism via intensive workshops for the supervisors in this department?
In the end, I trust that you have our best interest, and the best interest of the students at heart. The department counts on your judgment and follows your lead.
Leila C. Johnson
If you need help writing your internal discrimination complaint or need an attorney’s eyes to review a complaint you’ve received, call our office for a quote for services (630) 344-6370 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our employment law firm helps resolve employment disputes on both the employee side and the employer side. We also conduct internal workplace investigations.
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