44. Ethical Teamwork
Approximately 10 minutes
Team leaders work hard to establish an environment that is casual, open, and
relaxed. However, if that environment allows or—worse yet, encourages—
age-related comments, an organization may be liable for violations of the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). This exercise asks participants to
compile a list of phrases that team members might innocently use in reference to
older employees—phrases that could serve as the basis for subsequent lawsuits.
To sharpen awareness of casual phrases that could lead to charges of age
Any size group. Participants will meet in small groups.
No special arrangement required other than seating that permits easy group
Flipchart and marking pens
Introduce the exercise by reviewing the Points of Interest.
Divide the class into small groups and distribute a sheet of flipchart paper and
a marking pen to each.
Ask them to write phrases such as “Young Turks” and others that, however
innocent their original intention, may in fact produce subsequent legal
Have a spokesperson from each group come forward and hang the list on the
wall. As he or she reviews the items on the list, ask the other groups to cross
off any duplicates on their own lists.
Continue to have each group send a spokesperson forward to review the
Debrief with a reminder that teams are expected to do more than accomplish
their mission. They are also expected to accomplish that mission in a safe and
Prepare a script ahead of time for a team leader and a team member. The script
should have several phrases that could be viewed as discriminatory, such as, “Are
you thinking about retirement?” Have two volunteers enact the script in a
fishbowl setting while the remaining participants take note of the potentially
How uncomfortable does it make you to know that simple phrases like “you
can’t teach an old dog new tricks” could be used in an age-discrimination
What kinds of ethical guidelines should a team leader establish at the first
How old do you have to be to receive protection from ADEA? (Answer: 40 or
“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”
– LeRoy Satchel Paige
POINTS OF INTEREST
In Buffalo, New York, a 48-year-old salesman for a steel company was awarded
nearly $1 million in damages when he claimed his dismissal was the result of age
discrimination and not the result of poor work performance or even customer
complaints as the company charged. Included in the evidence he offered was the
fact that rising stars were often called “young tigers” by his manager.
A 64-year-old Missouri school bus driver used the phrase “old enough to retire” to
help convince a jury she was discharged for age discrimination and not speeding,
as the company claimed. Further proof was her supervisor’s comment at her
birthday party: he told her he “didn’t know that she was that old.” The jury
awarded her $76,000 in damages.