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Florida woman wins lawsuit for age discrimination

Do you know that writing an email to someone in all capital letters is the same, in modern electronic etiquette, as yelling at them in person? Would your mother or grandmother know it?

Depending on your age, you may or may not grasp some of the finer nuances of electronic communication these days. The way that people communicate in general is constantly evolving -- and language differences have long been a hallmark of generational differences. Every cool kid knows at least a dozen slang terms that his or her parents don't know -- and parents all remember at least that many that came into popular use when they were teenagers.

According to one woman, however, her failure to keep abreast of the social niceties that should be observed in electronic communications was used by her employer to cite her for a lack of "professionalism" after she sent him an email written only in capital letters. She was unaware that doing so was considered an aggressive act, akin to shouting.

Despite the fact that she had been an exemplary employee of the state for more than 17 years, rising through the ranks to her position as a government analyst, the 64-year-old woman was fired less than a year after her new boss came on board. A far younger employee was hired in her place.

She claimed it was an act of discrimination due to age -- pointing to things like the furor over the "all caps letter" (which was mentioned by her boss as one of the reasons she was being fired). Her employer denied it. The woman sued, claiming protection through the Florida Civil Rights Act.

Now, a judge has ruled that the fired worker was the victim of discrimination based, in part, on her age. Accordingly, her employer was required to pay her attorney fees for the case, plus pay the victim $22,500 in combined back pay and compensatory damages for her lost future wages. The settlement is likely that low only because the woman was so close to retirement age when she was fired.

Employers should take note. Cases like this show that a little understanding and a simple explanation of the communication etiquette you expect can ease generational differences -- and perhaps avoid a painful lawsuit regarding an employee's rights. Employees need to be aware of their rights.

Source: Florida Politics, "State settles lawsuit by worker fired after 'all caps' email," Jim Rosica, May 04, 2018

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