“Nothing more than a teller”: Lillian Olsen’s Experience of Ageism

On December 1, 2011, Lillian drove to Ledyard National Bank in Hanover, New Hampshire, where she had been working for the past 7 years. She did not know it yet, but it would be one of her last days making that drive. 

Lillian Olsen started her career at Ledyard Bank in her early fifties in 2004. Lillian believes she was mainly hired because her children were old enough that they could take care of themselves (this meant that Lillian would never have to be called out of work because they were sick), and because she wouldn’t work there long enough to claim the retirement fund. She also thinks she was partially hired because of her 30 years of customer service. Lillian was very pleased: “It was marvelous.” She had always enjoyed banking and interacting with the public.

Lillian happily worked at Ledyard Bank for several years. Throughout her time there, she took various classes, that were not paid for by the bank, costing a lot of her own money. Lillian took these classes to improve her teller skills as well as other banking skills and improve her standing in the bank. After her 7th year working there, a promotion became available. 

The promotion was for the head teller of the main branch, which was where Lillian was working. The manager of the drive-up branch was promoted to the head teller of the main branch. Lillian thought that this was unfair. Lillian had seniority in time working at the bank, had more education, and was more ingrained in the business of the bank than the new head teller, but this was nothing in the face of her age, which at this time was 61. 

According to dol.gov, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects “employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” This means the bank was legally not allowed to choose not to promote Lillian because of her age. 

Since the manager of the drive-up branch had been promoted, that spot had then become available. Again, Lillian was passed over. The position was instead “given to a girl who was 24 years old and had been hired, unbeknown to the rest of us, with the idea the first time an opportunity for a promotion came up, she would be given the promotion beyond anybody else.” For this to take place this person had to have worked at the bank for a year, and had only just barely worked there for 1 year and 1 month. The people who chose the new person “did not offer me the job; they did not discuss it with me in any shape or form.” They only told Lillian who the new head teller was afterwards. 

            Lillian “was very angry, [and] very disappointed” that she had not been given either promotion. She was also disappointed that the person who took the job, “was a person who had very little customer service sense, very little interaction with the people. She was a, I would call it a hoity-toity person. She was better than anybody else and had very little concern for anybody that she did not train.”

Lillian took a ten-day vacation to visit her children. When Lillian got back, she found that the new head teller had promoted someone from the drive-up branch into the main branch. This new person, and the other teller working at the main branch, had taken over all of Lillian’s various positions, including assistant head teller. Lillian had been reduced “to nothing more than a teller; after 7 years of working hard at to promote myself and to improve my stability in the bank.”

Lillian was done. She gave her two week notice and “on my 62nd birthday, quit the bank.” After she quit, Lillian felt “[h]omesick. I was very, very homesick for the clients that I had known for 7 years. I knew them by name, I had seen their kids come in.”

According aarp.org, in 2017, 18,376 age discrimination complaints were submitted to the EEOC. This shows ageism is still an issue that should be addressed. Lillian didn’t try to sue for being discriminated against. According to shrm.org workplace experts say, “age discrimination is very difficult to prove” which was not any easier in Lillian’s case.

            Now, 8 years later, Lillian feels as though she made the right choice to quit, “There are days that I wish I had stayed longer,” but overall she’s glad she left when she did because of various issues she’s had, such as breast cancer, that would have made it harder for her to work. Lillian has enjoyed her retired life, but “I still miss the people, and I still miss the interaction with the people–but I don’t miss the drive.”/;


How do you address an issue that is not easily identified?

How much of an issue is age discrimination in our society?

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