The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) is a federal law that protects individuals who are 40 and over from age discrimination in the workplace. This law applies to current employees and job applicants. Some instances where age discrimination may arise are with decisions about hiring, firing, promotions, wages, and workplace conditions.

If you are over 40 years old, own a business, or are in a supervisory position, it is important to know when the ADEA applies, what the law does, and the legal consequences of age discrimination. You should also be mindful of other age-based and discrimination laws that could apply to workplace decisions.

What Individuals and Employers are Subject to the ADEA?

The ADEA does not apply to all employers. Generally, the ADEA only applies to private businesses that employ 20 or more people, federal government, state government, local government, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

As noted, the ADEA applies to individuals age 40 and over working for the types of employers listed above. However, there are still some limited exclusions. For example, the following classes of individuals do not receive the protections afforded under the ADEA:

  • Independent contractors;
  • Elected officials of a state or political subdivision; and
  • The staff, immediate advisers, and policymakers of an elected officer.

There are also some exceptions that are not so outright. As an example, there can be a mandatory age of retirement for law enforcement officers and firefighters. This will not violate the terms of the ADEA and you cannot bring an age discrimination case in these instances.

Even if the ADEA does not specifically apply to you, almost every state has a law that prohibits age discrimination. Many state laws are actually more comprehensive and also address age discrimination against younger individuals. This provides a broader range of protections in the workplace.

What Protections Does the ADEA Afford to Individuals?

Under the ADEA, people 40 and over are considered to be a protected class for employment law purposes. The law prohibits employers from engaging in the following actions against these individuals:

  • Forcing retirement because of age;
  • Refusing to hire someone based on their age;
  • Refusing to provide a job referral based on someone’s age;
  • Firing or laying off an employee based on their age;
  • Passing over an employee for a promotion because of their age;
  • Using age as a factor for determination of compensation or benefits;
  • Failing to provide training or job assignments to an employee because of their age;
  • Harassing an employee because of their age;
  • Retailiating against someone for opposing age discrimination practices; and
  • Any other action related to a term, condition, or privilege of employment that is rooted in age discrimination.

The ADEA also provides protections in other circumstances, like when posting job advertisements. Age preferences or limitations should never be included unless the employer can show that age is a bona fide occupational qualification to the specific position, which is rare. Check out the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) website for other protections that may apply.

How Do I Make a Claim Under the ADEA?

If you feel like you have been subject to age discrimination in the workplace, you can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The agency will investigate your claim and make a determination. You may also be able to settle your claim at this stage if the employer is willing to negotiate. Monetary damages and being rehired are common things people seek in an age discrimination case.

The EEOC often decides to issue a right to sue letter, which provides the claimant with the right to file a civil lawsuit for their discrimination matter. At this point, you will need to evaluate your chances of prevailing in court and the expected costs to determine if you should move forward. You may also have a state court claim, so you should determine which venue provides better odds.

Through all of this, expect the employer to have some defenses. The bona fide occupational qualification exception noted above is one possible defense. An employer could also argue that the employment decision was not based on age, but instead on other factors like poor performance or another candidate having better experience.

To prevail in your case, you will need strong evidence. This includes emails, texts, and witness statements that illustrate age discrimination. Statistics and history within the company regarding certain employment actions that favor younger individuals can also help your case.

Should I Contact a Lawyer If I Believe I Have Been Discriminated Against?

Since the ADEA is a comprehensive law affording a range of protections, you should contact a local discrimination lawyer if you think you have been a subject of discrimination. They can advise you on whether you have a case for age discrimination under the ADEA or any other law. A lawyer can also help you prepare your administrative charge and gather important documents from the employer. A lawyer can also represent your interests in court if it gets to that point.