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Precedence or preference in position over others similarly situated. As used, for example, with reference to job seniority, the worker with the most years of service is first promoted within a range of jobs subject to seniority, and is the last laid off, proceeding so on down the line to the youngest in point of service. The term may also refer to the priority of a lien or encumbrance.

A person who holds a lien or has an encumbrance against the property of another, so that her claim must be satisfied before any others, has seniority or priority.

An employee has seniority if he is among those with the most years of service at the place of employment. Such seniority entitles the employee to compete for promotion to jobs for which junior (less senior) employees would be ineligible or would receive less consideration. Traditionally, it also gives him the status of being among the last to lose his job in case of lay-offs.

Scamming the Elderly

Senior citizens are often the victims of street crimes, such as Robbery and assault. But they are more often the target of trained con artists who use a variety of techniques to trick senior citizens into giving them money for their fraudulent schemes. Whether it is a promise of a lucrative investment, a free vacation, or a great deal on home repair, senior citizens too often succumb to a variety of scams.

It is estimated that U.S. consumers lose up to $60 billion annually to Consumer Fraud. An estimated 50 percent of phone scam victims are over the age of sixty-five. Convicted con artists report that senior citizens are more trusting than younger persons. Some commentators attribute this to the fact that today's senior citizens grew up and matured in a society that was less threatening. Nevertheless, a study by the American Association of Retired Persons indicates that the stereotypical victim—a lonely, forgetful, gullible senior—bears little resemblance to the persons who are scammed. Victims are relatively affluent, educated, well-informed, and connected with their communities. Most, however, are not aware that con artists use the telephone to accomplish their fraudulent schemes. They believe that the person on the other end of the phone line is honest and hardworking.

Legitimate telemarketing is big business, generating nearly $460 billion a year in sales. It is estimated that about $40 billion a year is lost to fraudulent telemarketers. The dishonest telemarketers are fly-by-night operators working out of leased space with banks of telephones staffed by trained con artists. Once they steal enough money in a location, they quickly pack up and move to another city, leaving their victims with little chance to reclaim their money.

A common scam involves bogus prize announcements. A senior will receive a phone call and be told that he has won the grand prize in a contest. The senior is told to either buy a product or pay shipping and taxes ranging from $200 to $24,000. When the prize arrives, it turns out to be cheap junk, worth a small fraction of the amount the senior has paid.

Con artists also use junk mail for their fraudulent contest solicitations. One of the scams that is most financially ruinous to a senior, whether it is done by phone or mail, is a "contest" set up in stages. The solicitations announce that the senior is in a select group eligible for a grand prize but that she must send in an entry fee to participate. Once the fee, ranging from $5 to $20, is paid, the process is repeated over and over, as the contest promoters make more solicitations to the senior. Each time the senior "advances" from one stage to another, she must pay a new entry fee. Some seniors have lost tens of thousands of dollars by spending $5 to $20 at a time.

Another phone scam is based on convincing the victim that an extremely profitable business opportunity is available, but only for a limited time. With the promise of becoming millionaires, some seniors have sent thousands of dollars to con artists who give little, if anything, in return.

Fewer than 10 percent of people cheated out of their money report the Fraud to authorities. Some seniors are embarrassed or ashamed to report the crime, fearing that they will look foolish for their gullible behavior. Some con artists even keep con games going by threatening to expose seniors to their family and friends.

Another scam plays on the anger and shame of seniors who have been duped by fraudulent telemarketers. A caller offers to help the senior recover the money the senior had paid to other dishonest companies in hopes of receiving a prize. The caller asks the senior to pay a fee ranging from $200 to $800 for this service. The services typically turn out to be worthless.

The "bank examiner" scam has been perpetrated on senior citizens for generations. An elderly person, usually living alone, gets a call from a con artist posing as a bank examiner. The senior is told that the examiner is investigating a bank teller suspected of embezzling money by falsifying withdrawal receipts. The teller gives each customer the amount asked for and steals a small amount with each transaction. The con artist asks the senior to withdraw $5,000 from his savings account and give it to a detective waiting outside the bank. The money, the senior is told, will be used as evidence and returned with a reward. Once the senior hands over the money, he usually never hears from the con artist. Some scams, however, involve a second call and a plea for another $5,000 withdrawal.

Fraudulent home repair services are a bane to all consumers, but seniors are often the victims. A large Organized Crime group, known by law enforcement agencies as the Travelers, move from town to town. They go into a neighborhood and tell homeowners that they have finished a home repair job nearby and are willing to fix their houses with leftover materials at an extremely low price. These scam artists demand their money up front. Whether it is painting the exterior of a house, fixing a leaky roof, or sealing a drive-way, these con artists do little or no work and are quickly out of town before the homeowners realize they have been tricked.

Because of the growing population of senior citizens, law enforcement agencies have sought to educate seniors about telephone fraud and other common scams. Pamphlets distributed to senior citizens and community programs tell seniors to hang up the phone if they are pressured to part with their money and to toss the "you've won a prize" mailing in the wastebasket.

In the 1984 case of Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts, 467 U.S. 561, 104 S. Ct. 2576, 81 L. Ed. 2d 483, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of a seniority system that protected the jobs of white firefighters with seniority at the expense of recently hired black firefighters. The fire department in Memphis, Tennessee, implemented the traditional seniority principle of "last hired, first fired." In 1981 three white fire-fighters who otherwise would have kept their jobs under the system were laid off for a month while minority firefighters with less seniority continued working. This change in the seniority system resulted from an Injunction to enforce consent decrees that resolved equal employment opportunity cases in Memphis. The lower court fashioned the decrees to remedy the past discriminatory practices of the fire department in its hiring and promotion of minorities. The district court concluded that the seniority system was not a bona fide one under section 706(g) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 since lay-offs made pursuant to it would have a racially discriminatory effect. The court, therefore, directed the modification of the system to increase and maintain the percentage of black firefighters. The court of appeals affirmed the revision of the seniority system but disagreed with the holding that the system was not bona fide.

On certiorari, the Supreme Court decided that the district court exceeded its authority in issuing the injunction that ultimately led to the lay-off of the senior white firefighters. The injunction was not a proper remedy. There was no finding that any of the black employees protected by the revised system had been a direct victim of discrimination, a requirement imposed by the Court in International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 97 S. Ct. 1843, 52 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1977). The Court, however, did not decide whether the Consent Decree was valid or whether the Memphis Fire Department could, on its own, protect the jobs of black firefighters at the expense of their white colleagues who had more seniority.


Affirmative Action; Civil Rights; Employment Law; Equal Protection; Labor Law.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.