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Employer who fired 78-year-old receptionist must now pay her $78,000

Older Americans facing ageism in workplace
Older Americans facing ageism in workplace 03:16

The operator of a retirement facility in Columbus, Georgia, will have to pay $78,000 to a receptionist to settle an age and disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Shirley Noble was 78 when she was terminated from her job at Covenant Woods Senior Living in February of 2022 — one month after being honored as a 2021 employee of the year — according to a lawsuit filed by the agency in federal court. 

Noble, who had worked for Covenant for 14 years, returned to her job after a brief hospitalization to find a new, younger employee seated at her desk, the EEOC alleged. At a meeting with her manager the following day, Noble was questioned about whether she needed to continue working and how long she saw herself continuing in the workforce, according to the complaint. 

Noble expressed a desire to continue working for two or three more years, but the next day was told she was being let go due to a loss of confidence in her abilities, with her hospitalization cited as a concern that led to the decision, the EEOC alleged.

"Employers have a responsibility to evaluate an employee's performance without regard to age, if the employee is 40 and over, and without regard to an actual or perceived disability," Marcus Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC's Atlanta district office, said in a statement on Tuesday. 

Women of all ages facing ageism in workplace 05:54

Covenant Woods is owned by Chattanooga, Tennessee-based BrightSpace Senior Living, which operates a handful of retirement communities in four states. 

"We at Covenant Woods and BrightSpace Senior Living resolved this case due to the cost of litigating it," BrightSpace Chief Financial Officer Brian Hendricks said in a statement. "We do not admit wrongdoing or discriminatory conduct as part of this resolution. Covenant Woods and BrightSpace Senior Living remain committed to compliance with all discrimination and labor and employment laws."

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act only applies to workers who are at least 40 years of age. The 1975 law doesn't protect workers under 40 from age discrimination, although some states offer similar safeguards for younger employees.

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