The Prevalence of Age Discrimination in the Workplace
Working men and women who are age 40 and up play an indispensable role in our nation’s workforce. They are often more experienced, knowledgeable, and skilled than their younger counterparts. Nevertheless, age discrimination in the workplace is on the rise in the United States. During the decade beginning in 1997, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received approximately 187,648 complaints alleging employment discrimination on the basis of age. During the decade beginning in 2008, that number jumped to roughly 235,000 complaints.
The Law Prohibits Age Discrimination
Age discrimination is illegal. Both federal and state law prohibit employers from discriminating against employees and job seekers who are 40 years old or older because of their age. At the federal level, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prohibits age discrimination against employees age 40 and up. At the state level, the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) provides working Texans age 40 and up with an extra layer of protection from such discrimination.
These laws prohibit employers from intentionally discriminating against job applicants and employees on the basis of age (known as “disparate treatment”). Additionally, they prohibit employment practices that are not intended to discriminate, but in fact have a disproportionately adverse effect on members of a particular age group (known as “disparate impact”).
Age discrimination claims under the ADEA differ from discrimination claims under the TCHRA and Title VII in several ways. First, an age discrimination claim under the ADEA is harder to prove than an age-discrimination claim under the TCHRA or other types of discrimination claims under Title VII. Under the ADEA, a plaintiff must prove that, but for their age, their employer would not have fired them or taken some other adverse action against them. By contrast, under the TCHRA, a plaintiff who cannot prove “but-for” causation may still establish their claim by showing that their age was one of the factors that motivated their employer’s decision. This less-stringent standard applies to Title VII disparate-treatment claims as well.
Second, the administrative rules that apply to age-discrimination claims under the ADEA differ from the rules that apply to Title VII discrimination claims. Under the ADEA and Title VII, victims of employment discrimination generally must file a written complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days after the date on which the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred. Plaintiffs who wish to bring a claim under Title VII must obtain a “Notice of Right to Sue” letter from the EEOC before they can pursue file a lawsuit in court. By contrast, under the ADEA, plaintiffs who wish to pursue their ADEA age-discrimination claims do not need a Notice of Right to Sue letter to file a lawsuit in court. Instead, a plaintiff asserting an ADEA claim can file a lawsuit in court any time after 60 days have passed from the day they filed their EEOC complaint, but no later than 90 days after they receive notice that the EEOC has concluded its investigation of their claim.
Common Examples of Age Discrimination
The following are just a few examples of age discrimination in the workplace:
- Age Limits and Preferences in Job Ads: The law generally prohibits employers from placing age limits or preferences in job advertisements.
- Hiring Practices: An employer engages in unlawful age discrimination if it refuses to interview or hire a qualified candidate for an opening because it believes they are “too old.”
- Layoffs: In selecting which employees will be laid off, the law generally prohibits employers from laying off older employees because of their age.
- Mandatory Retirement Age: The law generally prohibits employers from imposing a mandatory retirement age on a position. An exception to this rule exists in rare situations where the circumstances of the job justify the age discrimination. For example, the law allows employers to impose mandatory retirement ages on jobs that require a high degree of physical and mental exertion such as military personnel, pilots, and air-traffic controllers.
- Training, Instruction, and Other Opportunities: An employer may not deny an older employee training, instruction, and other opportunities afforded to younger employees simply because the employer feels that the older employees are unlikely to produce a good “return on investment.”
- Benefits: The cost for an employer to pay for certain benefits to older employees is higher than the cost of providing the same benefits to younger employees. These benefits may include life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, retirement benefits, and pensions. To save money, some employers will fire older employees and then come up with some other reason for their decision. For the same reason, some employers may refuse to interview or hire older job applicants because of the additional cost of their benefits. Other employers may simply reduce or deny benefits to older employees. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) generally prohibits such employment practices. The OWBPA contains a number of exceptions, however, so employees who believe they may have suffered age discrimination in connection with their benefits should discuss their specific circumstances with an employment lawyer.
In addition to the specific examples described above, you may have an age discrimination claim if you have experienced some other adverse employment action or decision because of your age. This includes an employer’s actions and decisions related to:
- work assignments,
- employee discipline,
- training and instruction,
- recruitment, and
- any other term or condition of employment.
This list is by no means comprehensive. There are a wide variety of actions and decisions that may qualify as an adverse employment action or decision. If you’re unsure whether you have experienced an adverse employment action on the basis of your age, contact the Wagoner Law Firm today for a free case evaluation.
When to Speak to An Age Discrimination Lawyer
If you believe that you have been discriminated against on the basis of your age, it’s imperative that you take action immediately. Keep detailed notes and records of the actions taken by your employer, the individuals involved, dates, times, places, conversations, and any other relevant details. Having detailed notes, copies of relevant emails and documents, and records of the events that transpired at work can greatly help your attorney or the EEOC investigate and pursue your claim down the road.
Additionally, having an experienced employment lawyer on your side may relieve stress and help you achieve the best outcome possible in your case. A knowledgeable and experienced employment lawyer may help you in a variety of ways, including advising you on your rights, helping you prepare your EEOC complaint in a manner that preserves your rights, ensuring that your filing deadlines are met, investigating and collecting the evidence you will need to prove your claims, and representing you in a lawsuit.
Because of the complicated administrative process, short filing deadlines, and complex web of employment laws that might apply to your case, victims of age-related employment discrimination should contact the Wagoner Law Firm without delay for a free case evaluation.