It was one year ago today that I was summoned to the office of the Chief Financial Officer of the Mid-West Family Broadcast Group, a company I’d been a shareholder with for 30 years, and in front of two witnesses in a 7-minute meeting, I was handed my walking papers.
The Monday after Thanksgiving I handed the papers to my lawyer, and she took over. Six weeks later, the legal battle was over, and I won a (sealed) settlement. A week after that, I started my next life as a self-employed writer and landed a huge project. And started this blog.
So, when I read the account of Elizabeth Miller of Merrimac, which just made the papers late last week, I was keenly interested. She was 59 years old in April of 2007 when she was applying for work as a grant writer. She’d been working as a grant writer for the past ten years.
On a conference call with two employees of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, she finished the phone interview with them, hung up, and then went to make another call. When she picked up the phone, she heard the two still talking about her. According to Miller, they were guessing that she was about 59 or 60 years old.
Miller says she heard them say a lot of employees at InterVarsity were about 59 or 60 years old, and would be retiring in five years. Miller says the two agreed they didn’t want to add to that problem by hiring her, so they decided to call another woman and interview her for the job. That woman was 29 years old and no grant writing experience.
So they hired her.
As you might imagine, Elizabeth filed a federal age discrimination lawsuit. InterVarsity will have its day in court with Elizabeth, and InterVarsity’s spokesman - an old friend and former fellow broadcaster Gordon Govier - says they’ll present their side, and thinks they’ll win.
Not if Elizabeth is telling the truth, and a jury is involved. Slam dunk.
My termination at Mid-West had nothing to do with my age, and my lawyer never alleged that it did. I was 59 years old, but it was house politics. They said it was the economy. The other guy that was fired that day was 52. Another long-time shareholder and employee. When they whacked us, they knocked a huge chunk off their payroll. That much is certain.
Even if Elizabeth Miller wins her suit against InterVarsity, she’ll still face the same prejudice if she looks for work. It ain’t easy being 60 and trying to convince a 20- or 30-something human resources person you still have a lot to offer.
But, like any other prejudice, most folks can be pretty good at covering it up. And that’s the hard part. You know it’s going on, but you can’t prove it.
Truth is often not that easy to come by. And even if you uncover it, it may not “set you free”. Sometimes uncovering the truth is very expensive.
As the lawyers say, bring a big wallet, and prepare to lose. Good luck, Elizabeth.