YOU ALL BETTER MAKE YOUR MONEY BY AGE 40 OR EARLIER, IF YOU ARE NOT DROWNING IN STUDENT DEBT LOAN, HERE’S YOUR FUTURE AS MAPPED OUT BY THE 1%
If there is one thing older workers fear in this economy, it’s losing their jobs as they approach retirement. But that is exactly what happened in March to Richard L. White, who was the director of career services at Rutgers University for 22 years.
In January, shortly before leaving, Mr. White filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Rutgers. Three other longtime administrators who were also terminated joined the lawsuit, bringing into the open an increasingly contentious workplace issue.
Age discrimination claims are on the rise as members of the post-World War II baby boom enter their 60s. Last year, 22,857 people filed age-related complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, compared with 16,548 in 2006.
Mr. White, as well as two other career services administrators fired from Rutgers — Dorothy Kerr, 60, and Chrystal McArthur, 64 — had received positive job reviews until Mr. Jackson became involved in 2012. (The fourth who sued, Ms. Kerr’s husband, Mark, 58, did not receive formal appraisals because he was not a supervisor.)
According to Ms. Kerr, who had spent more than 40 years at Rutgers, Mr. Jackson “kept asking us when we were going to retire.”
In the view of the fired administrators, Mr. Jackson wanted to bring in his own people, most of whom were younger, and instead of offering them other positions, dismissed them without cause.
In an email, Peter J. McDonough Jr., a Rutgers spokesman, said that university officials believed the lawsuit was “without merit” and that they would “vigorously defend our practices.” He noted that the new career services director, Richard Hearin, 64, is older than Mr. White. University officials also said that an investigation by Rutgers’s Office of Employment Equity found no policy violation.
A lawyer for Rutgers, John Bennett, said he was unable to go into further detail because of an Oct. 10 court order restricting the release of personnel documents.
(Before that order, however, both the university and the fired administrators provided The New York Times with copies of job assessments that indicated they met all standards in 2011, but none in 2012.)
Once older workers lose their jobs, many never regain their former standard of living. On average, those who do find work make 20 percent less than they had in their previous positions, the biggest income loss for any age group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While Mr. White has found part-time employment at another university, the position does not include benefits and he is spending $2,400 a month for his family’s health coverage. None of his former colleagues have found full-time work either.
Winning an age discrimination case in a federal court has become particularly difficult since a 2009 Supreme Court ruling requiring an employee to prove that age was the determining factor for a layoff. In a few states, however, including New Jersey, the standard of proof is lower, requiring only that workers show that age was one factor.
The lawsuit against Rutgers and Mr. Jackson represents a third instance of high-ranking officials facing public claims of abusive or discriminatory behavior since Robert L. Barchi became president last year. It has received much less publicity than the others, which revolve around the athletic department and the firing of Mike Rice, the men’s basketball coach, after a video surfaced that showed him shouting homophobic slurs and throwing balls at players.