When you think about employers who might discriminate on the basis of age, the AARP is not a likely candidate. In fact, part of the AARP’s mission is to combat age discrimination in the workplace. The AARP’s mission did not stop a former employee from alleging that she was terminated because of her age. The 60-year-old employee had worked for the AARP for some time when her job duties were expanded to include responsibilities for financial oversight and preparation of financial reports. The employee struggled with the new tasks and the AARP provided training to assist the employee with the performance of her new duties. Despite the training, and a detailed performance improvement plan, the employee could not adequately handle the new duties and was terminated. The employee was not replaced by a younger employee, although the employee claimed her supervisor made one remark about hiring a younger worker. The court granted the AARP’s motion for summary judgment because the employee could not show that her age was the “but for” cause of the AARP’s decision to terminate her employment. Instead, it found that the AARP had established that the employee was terminated for poor performance.
The case illustrates a tricky issue: How does an organization devoted to helping a particular protected class, handle the termination of an employee who is a member of that same protected class? Like any other employer – by clearly communicating performance expectations, providing training and assistance to an employee who is struggling to perform so that the employee has an opportunity to succeed, and by documenting the deficiencies and efforts to improve performance.