We often hear that ageism is one of the barriers facing long-term care residents these days. Turns out it’s a barrier many employees may be up against as well.

Consider: Earlier this month, a federal appeals court rejected a healthcare worker’s claim that he was dismissed due to his advancing years.

Tom Lindeman, 48, seemed to have a pretty strong argument. St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City said it let him go after several infractions under the provider’s progressive disciplinary policy. Specifically, he failed to follow call-in and time card procedures and violated patient confidentiality.

His attorneys pointed out an apparent inconsistency. What about younger employees who committed similar offenses? Why was it OK for them to stay on?

Amazingly, the court ruled a comparison did not apply. Why? Because they didn’t share the same jobs or same supervisors, nor were they all on their final strike of the facility’s discrimination policy.

In that case, it seems fair to infer that the alleged misdeeds mattered less than the offender’s title, and who that person reports to. Is it just me, or do the court’s newly discovered benchmarks seem a bit convenient?

Perhaps Lindeman can take comfort in a new report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that notes age discrimination is a growing problem nationwide.

Federal investigators found that more than 60% of workers 45 and older admitted to witnessing or experiencing age discrimination. The report adds that women and minorities are particularly vulnerable.

Making matters worse is that older workers typically find it much more difficult to find new employment once they are let go, the authors concluded.

What’s somewhat ironic is that many studies have found that older employees tend to be far more reliable and productive than their younger cohorts. But from a paycheck and benefits perspective, they also tend to be more expensive. And therein lies the rub.

Perhaps what’s happening here is not really intentional discrimination so much as simple economics at play.

In other words, why pay the higher cost of a long-time employee when you can get a youngster for a fraction of that total? If you need to be creative when it comes to citing an infraction to legitimize the firing, so be it.

Or as Michael Corleone so neatly put it when justifying a rival’s murder: It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.