andy-rooney-303719886_v2grid-3x2.jpgAndy Rooney is leaving “60 Minutes” at age 92 and some workers out there may be jealous he was able to hold onto his plum job for so long.

A growing number of middle-aged workers are finding it hard to hold onto their jobs, or find new ones, and they haven’t even reached retirement age.

There’s been a flurry of cases in recent weeks that point to a growing reluctance to treat 40 plus employees fairly, and many of my emails in the last few months are from readers who feel their age is holding them back.

Some of you have told me you lost your job because you were the oldest and among the better paid at your companies. Others searching for work said you believe you’re taken out of the running for jobs when hiring managers realize how old you are, either after the interview or before getting through the door because of extensive work histories on resumes.

Clearly age discrimination happens, as recent federal statistics attest to. According to the federal government, the recession brought with it a record number of complaints about age bias, more than 20,000 every years since 2008. And the cases can be rather egregious.

Technology company 3M agreed to a $3 million settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because it systematically dismissed employees because of their age.

The EEOC said:

* 3M unlawfully laid off hundreds of employees over the age of 45 during a series of reductions in force.
* 3M laid off many highly paid older employees, among others, apparently to save money and cut workers in salaried positions up to the level of director, the agency said.
* Older employees were denied leadership training and laid off to make way for younger leaders.
* The agency’s investigation found an employee e-mail describing then-CEO Jim McNerney’s “vision for leadership development” as “we should be developing 30 year olds with General Manager potential” and “He wants us to tap into the youth as participants in the leadership development.”

And in a case announced on Monday by the EEOC brought against safety supply company DXP Enterprises, the agency claims a women was fired for having a bad back and being old. Well, 52.

“We will vigorously prosecute cases where it appears that employment decisions are based on myths, fears or stereotypes about an individual’s ability because of their age or disability,” said Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office.

I think O’Neill points to the biggest problems as they relate to age bias — myths, fears, stereotypes. We all know older workers can do the job, but our youth-focused culture is hard to fight. I even hear about cases where older workers discriminate against other older workers and see know problem with this.

I guess it’s the “I’m-not really-old-but-they-are” mentality.

On the flip side, are older workers who feel old. Some older workers I talk to convey a sense of dread, that our youth-focused culture is pushing them off to the sidelines. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you feel there’s an “I’m old” sign taped to your back. Suddenly the office is full of younger employees who don’t really interact with you, or you notice the fresh faced among you seem to be getting the best assignments, or people assume you know nothing about the latest gadgets and let Gen Y and Gen X types handle all the new office technology.

Many of you who write me about this undercurrent of bias sound more like victims than seasoned work veterans who believe in themselves. You want to know why the young employees think you’re all a bunch of old fogies.

Whenever I ask experts on how to combat age bias or your own feelings of oldness, I tend to get the usual stupid stuff like, “die your hair” or “go to the gym.” Yes, you need to feel good about yourself, but some Grecian Formula can only do so much. You have to feel good about what you bring to the table, especially your years of experience.

All that said, you still may face bias. Unfortunately, such cases are hard to prove.

So, would you hire an older worker? Be honest. If you are you may be able to counteract age bias you may experience, or should I say, we all may experience. One truism — we all get old if we’re lucky.

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