Age Discrimination in the Workplace

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 What is Age Discrimination in the Workplace?

Age discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee, or a potential employee, different from other employees who perform the same work, solely based on the individual’s age. Proving age discrimination proof that an employer intended to discriminate against an employee based on their age.

Work performance as well as the ability to perform certain tasks are important considerations in an age discrimination case. Age discrimination commonly occurs during the hiring phase of employment.

For example, age discrimination may occur when an employer refuses to hire an individual simply because of their age and there is no other apparent reason why the individual would be denied the job. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits an employer from discriminating against workers who are 40 years of age and older on the basis of their age.

This means that an employer is not permitted to make a decision regarding the employment of an individual who is 40 or older based on their age. Courts have interpreted this to mean that an employee would be required to show that their age was the reason the employer acted as it did.

Examples of age discrimination may include, but are not limited to:

  • Discrimination in hiring, or refusing to hire an individual because of their age;
  • Discrimination in promotions, or not promoting an individual because of their age;
  • Discrimination in wages and salaries, or paying employees differently based on their age;
  • Discrimination in the termination of employment and in layoffs, or firing or laying off an individual because of their age;
  • Denying benefits to older employees. This occurs when an employer reduces benefits based on age only if the cost of providing the reduced benefits to older workers is the same as the cost of providing full benefits to younger workers; and

Mandatory retirement in most sectors of the economy. Mandatory retirement has been banned since 1986 with phased in elimination of mandatory retirement for tenured workers, for example, college professors, beginning in 1993.
Mandatory retirement based on age is still permitted for executives who are over the age of 65 or who are in a high policy-making position. In addition, age discrimination is illegal under the laws of many states.

A victim of age discrimination may be entitled to remedies including monetary compensation for damages and job restoration.

Is Age Discrimination Limited to Hiring Procedures?

No, age discrimination is not limited to hiring procedures and may occur in other settings as well. For example, it may be considered age discrimination if an employer is consistently denying certain individuals a pay raise or a promotion based on their age.

Termination based on age discrimination is a common issue. Another common age discrimination issue arises when an employer fires an individual simply because they are getting close to their age of retirement.

There are some employers that may do so in order to avoid having to provide retirement benefits. If this occurs and is based on age discrimination, a civil claim may be necessary.

How is Age Discrimination Proven?

In order to prove age discrimination at work, an individual will be required to present evidence at trial that the employer made decisions regarding the individual’s employment on the basis of their age and that they were 40 years of age or older. There are two main ways to prove age discrimination, disparate treatment and disparate impact.

Disparate treatment means that an individual was treated differently than other employees by an employee due to their age. This is a type of intentional discrimination.

The other means to prove age discrimination is to show that the employer’s actions had a disparate impact on its employees because of their age. An individual who wants to prove age discrimination in employment would be required to present the testimony of witnesses, provide documents as well as possible expert witness testimony to show:

  • The employer’s decisions;
  • The reasons for those decisions; and
  • The effect of those decisions.

What if I have been Subject to Age-Based Discrimination?

The majority of age based discrimination claims must be processed by a federal or state government agency. One of the most common forms of relief is for the victim to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will then conduct investigations into the individual’s claim.

If the EEOC does find a violation, they may hold a hearing and prescribe a remedy, for example, restoring the individual to their position prior to termination. Compensation for lost wages as well as other losses may also be part of the remedy.

In the majority of cases, the law requires that a victim file a claim with a government agency prior to being allowed to file a lawsuit. The individual can only file a lawsuit if the investigation does not provide a suitable or adequate remedy.

In most cases, the law requires that the victim file a claim with a government agency before they are permitted to file a lawsuit. They can only file a lawsuit if the investigation does not provide a suitable or adequate remedy.

How Do I File an Age Discrimination Complaint?

As noted above, an individual who believes they were the victim of age discrimination will be required to file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. A Charge of Discrimination asks the EEOC to take action to remedy the issue.

The EEOC provides individuals with an online assessment tool that allows them to confirm if they are eligible to file a charge. Once they are confirmed eligible, they must complete an intake questionnaire to begin the EEOC charge process.

It is important to note that submitting an intake questionnaire is not the same as filing a charge. It is important for an individual to act promptly if they have a complaint of discrimination. They must file the Charge of Discrimination within 180 calendar days of the day the discrimination occurred.

The filing deadline is extended from 180 calendar days to 300 days if there is a state law that prohibits age discrimination in employment as well as a state agency or authority that enforces the state law. This deadline is not extended if there is only a local law that prohibits age discrimination, but there is not a state agency or authority that enforces the state law.

If an individual is a federal employee or job applicant, they are required to contact an agency EEO counselor within 45 days. There may be a different process for filing age discrimination complaints related to federal employment.

If an individual attempts to resolve an age discrimination complaint using their employer’s internal procedure or a union grievance procedure, it will not extend the deadline for filing an EEOC charge. If an individual desires to pursue action using these channels, they must do so at the same time as pursuing an EEOC charge.

The individual must then wait for the outcome of the EEOC investigation prior to filing a complaint against the employer or potential employer in federal court.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Age Discrimination Claims?

Claims involving age discrimination may be complex and difficult to prove. In some cases, it may involve entire company policies that do not conform to state or federal laws.

It may be helpful to consult with a discrimination lawyer if you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to age discrimination. Your attorney can help you determine whether age discrimination occurred, assist you with filing a claim with the proper agency, and with filing a lawsuit, if it becomes necessary.

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