Age discrimination in the workplace is a serious issue that many older workers face. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that age discrimination charges are among the most reported forms of workplace discrimination.
If you feel you have experienced age discrimination at work, it’s important to understand your rights and the steps you can take. This article provides an overview of age discrimination, how to recognize it, critical steps for building your case, and getting legal support to prove age bias.
What is Age Discrimination in the Workplace?
Age discrimination occurs when an employer takes adverse action against an employee precisely because of their age. This could involve being passed up for a promotion, receiving poor performance reviews, demoted, denied training, or even terminated.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is the key federal law prohibiting this type of discrimination. It applies to workers 40 years or older at companies with 20 or more employees.
Under the ADEA, it is unlawful for an employer to:
- Make any employment decision based solely on an employee’s age. This includes decisions about hiring, firing, compensation, benefits, promotions, job assignments, training opportunities.
- Include specifications such as age preferences or other limitations in job listings that discriminate against older applicants.
- Create a hostile work environment where older employees are harassed due to age.
- Retaliate against employees who file an age discrimination claim.
In addition to federal law, most states also have laws prohibiting age discrimination in employment.
How to Recognize Age Discrimination at Work?
Age bias can manifest in subtle ways that aren’t always easy to pinpoint. Here are some common signs of age discrimination in the workplace:
- Derogatory comments about your age or jokes related to being “over the hill.”
- Being passed up for promotions or opportunities that are given to younger, less experienced employees.
- Receiving unjustified negative performance reviews.
- Being singled out for discipline while younger employees get off easy.
- Being demoted from your position with vague reasoning.
- Having your job duties gradually taken away and assigned to a younger employee.
- Being denied training opportunities given to younger employees.
- Being terminated or laid off, while younger employees in the same role are retained.
- Seeing job postings that seem to impose arbitrary age limits or specify wanting someone “young” or “energetic.”
- Being asked your age, birth date, or other age-related questions during interviews.
Pay attention if you notice yourself or other older co-workers experiencing patterns like these. It may indicate that age discrimination is occurring in your workplace.
How Often Does Age Discrimination Happen?
Unfortunately, ageism is still prevalent in many workplaces. In 2021, over 18,000 age discrimination charges were filed with the EEOC. And research suggests these official charges are just the tip of the iceberg.
Surveys indicate age discrimination may be one of the most widespread yet hardest to prove forms of workplace bias. Per an AARP survey of American workers 45 and older:
- 61% reported seeing or experiencing age bias at work.
- 93% considered age discrimination very or somewhat common.
- Yet only 3% filed a formal complaint.
Ageism tends to spike during economic downturns when older workers face bias and are often targeted for layoffs first. With an aging workforce staying on the job longer, experts expect age discrimination charges to keep rising.
How to Prove Age Discrimination at Work?
Proving an age discrimination claim can be challenging since bias is not always overt. Here are vital steps to build your case:
- Document Everything
Keep a detailed record of any incidents that may suggest age bias, including:
- Dates, times, locations, and witnesses to conversations, comments, or actions.
- Copies of emails, texts, performance reviews, warnings, demotions, layoff notices, or other relevant documents.
- Notes from meetings with details of what was said.
- Look for Discriminatory Patterns
- Are other older employees experiencing similar negative treatment or exclusion?
- Are younger peers receiving better treatment, promotions, training opportunities?
- Does your employer have a pattern of laying off or firing older workers while retaining younger ones?
- Consult with an Age Discrimination Lawyer
Share your documentation and concerns with an employment attorney. They can objectively assess whether you likely have a valid claim under federal and state law.
An attorney can also request copies of internal communications and HR records via subpoena to uncover evidence of bias that you can’t access directly.
- File a Charge with the EEOC
You must file a charge with the EEOC before you can pursue legal action. This starts a process where the EEOC will investigate your claim and determine if there’s reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred.
Having the EEOC back your complaint adds legitimacy and puts pressure on the employer to resolve the matter. An attorney can ensure the process goes smoothly.
- Negotiate a Settlement
Many age discrimination cases are settled through negotiation rather than going to trial. An employer will often agree to a settlement to avoid negative publicity.
Your lawyer can negotiate fair terms like lost salary reimbursement, pension adjustments, policy changes, and mandatory training to prevent future age discrimination.
- Take Your Case to Trial
Your attorney may recommend filing an age discrimination lawsuit if a settlement can’t be reached. They will build the strongest case using your evidence, testimony, and experts to prove the employer violated age discrimination laws.
Though challenging, with robust evidence and a stellar legal team, employees absolutely can win age discrimination cases in court.
What Does the Law Say About Age Discrimination?
There are two key laws prohibiting age bias against workers over 40:
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
As noted earlier, the ADEA is the primary federal law banning age discrimination in the workplace. It prohibits bias against employees and job applicants age 40+ regarding any aspect of employment.
Most states have additional laws prohibiting age discrimination and allowing employees to file claims at the state level. Some states also set a lower age threshold than 40 for protection.
For example, California law prohibits bias against people over age 40 but also has separate protections for workers as young as 18. So, an employee under 40 could have a claim under state law even if they aren’t covered by federal law.
What Role Does an Age Discrimination Lawyer Play?
Consulting with an attorney specializing in age discrimination cases is highly recommended if you feel you’ve been mistreated at work due to your age. An employment attorney can provide assistance, including:
- Reviewing your situation to determine if you likely have a valid legal claim.
- Collecting crucial documents and evidence from your employer via subpoena.
- Advising if your case may qualify for fast-track mediation through the EEOC.
- Filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC on your behalf.
- Representing you if a lawsuit is necessary and handling all aspects of the case.
- Negotiating a favorable pre-trial settlement with your employer.
- Fighting for total compensation for lost wages, benefits, and emotional distress if a settlement can’t be reached.
- Ensuring compliance with the decision and stopping future age discrimination.
Having an experienced attorney on your side can make all the difference in reaching a positive outcome.
Q: Is age discrimination hard to prove?
A: Age discrimination can be challenging to prove, as it often involves subtle and indirect forms of discrimination. However, with the right evidence and legal support, it is possible to build a strong case and prove that age was a determining factor in the adverse employment action.
Q: What is the age requirement to be considered a victim of age discrimination?
A: To be considered a victim of age discrimination under the ADEA, you must be at least 40 years of age or older.
Q: How can I prove age discrimination in the workplace if there is no direct evidence?
A: Even if there is no direct evidence of age discrimination, you can still prove your case through indirect evidence. This can include circumstantial evidence, such as statistical data showing a pattern of discrimination against older workers or testimony from witnesses who observed discriminatory behavior in the workplace.
- Age discrimination remains a significant problem impacting older employees. Recognizing the signs is the first step in addressing it.
- There are clear steps employees can take to build a strong case, including gathering evidence and consulting an attorney.
- Powerful legal protections exist under the ADEA and state laws to protect employees over 40 from bias.
- Employees can hold employers accountable for unlawful age discrimination and obtain justice with the right legal support and perseverance.
- Preventing future discrimination begins with successfully challenging it when it occurs. Employees everywhere benefit when one person fights back against ageism in the workplace.
Proving age discrimination can be difficult, but it is possible with thorough documentation and guidance from an experienced age discrimination lawyer. No one should have to tolerate unfair treatment due to stereotypes about age quietly. Our years of experience and skills deserve to be valued, respected, and protected in the workplace.