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Law

Using ‘OK boomer’ in the workplace could be against the law yet LGBT people can still be fired for simply existing

Reiss Smith November 11, 2019
Donald Trump pointing angrily

Donald Trump, a boomer, has asked the Supreme Court to effectively legalise workplace discrimination against trans people. (Getty)

An employment lawyer has warned that using “OK boomer” could fall foul of employment discrimination laws, and yet, LGBT+ people can still be fired simply for existing.

“OK boomer” is the viral phrase that has divided generations.

Many millennials and Gen Zs – including 25-year-old New Zealand MP Chloe Swarbrick – have adopted the term to signal “the absolute sense of exhaustion with having to articulate time and time again that things never seem to change on a systemic level, and then being met with dismissal”.

But for some (not all) baby boomers, it is a loaded, offensive turn of phrase which, according to an employment lawyer, could constitute discrimination.

Rachel Premack, a senior reporter at Business Insider, shared a screenshot of a press release she received titled “‘OK boomer’ is not OK in the workplace.”

“Dear Rachel,” the email read, “with the widespread attention of the phrase ‘OK boomer,’ many sincerely (and for employers dangerously) do not appreciate the potential ageist interpretation of the term.

The use of ‘OK boomer’ in the workplace could be sufficient evidence of age-based hostility to support a lawsuit.

“The Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers over the age of 40 – a category that includes all ‘boomers’ – from discrimination or harassment on the basis of age.”

The email quoted Joseph Sirback, a labour and employment attorney with Cozen O’Connor, who reportedly said that “as the phrase enters our vocabulary, the use of ‘OK boomer’ in the workplace could be sufficient evidence of age-based hostility to support a lawsuit under the ADEA”.

As Twitter user @SilverSoul164 pointed out, there is a disparity between the laws protecting workers from ageism and the rights of LGBT+ people in the workplace.

“Workplace discrimination laws cover calling a boomer a boomer as hate speech but i can legally be fired for being trans if my manager is a bigot,” she wrote.

Supreme Court to rule on LGBT+ employment protections.

Currently, America is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether or not employers can legally discriminate against LGBT+ people.

The court heard a trio of cases in October, as three LGBT+ claimants  who were fired for being queer asked whether they should have been protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Title VII outlaws discrimination on the basis of sex as well as gender, race, colour, national origin and religion. However, there is no specific mention of sexuality or trans identity. The court is being asked to decide whether these protections apply to LGBT+ people.

The Trump administration has asked the justices to rule against trans rights, arguing that “in 1964 [when Title VII was enacted], the ordinary public meaning of ‘sex’ was biological sex. It did not encompass transgender status.”

At a hearing in October, the court appeared divided, with conservative judge Samuel Alito suggesting that a ruling in favour of the LGBT+ community could be seen as deciding “a major policy question” and “acting exactly like a legislature”.

If the court rules against the three queer claimants, LGBT+ employees will find themselves without any federal protections against workplace discrimination. At a local level, 28 states have no laws against workplace discrimination that targets LGBT+ employees, according to the Associated Press.

“The stakes for hard-working LGBTQ Americans could not be higher,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.

“These cases will not only determine whether companies can legally fire someone just for being LGBTQ, but whether our community will face legal discrimination throughout all aspects of daily life.”

More: Employment, OK boomer, supreme court

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