The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) is a federal law that protects people aged 40 and over from age discrimination in the workplace. The law covers employees and job applicants. Hiring, firing, promotions, wages, and workplace conditions can all be affected by age discrimination.
You should know when the ADEA applies, what it does, and the legal consequences of age discrimination if you are over 40, own a business, or are in a supervisory position. You should also be aware of other age-based and discrimination laws that could apply to workplace decisions.
Which Individuals and Employers are Subject to the ADEA?
The ADEA does not cover all employers. Federal, state, and local governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations are generally covered by the ADEA.
The ADEA applies to individuals over 40 who work for the employers listed above. There are, however, some limited exclusions. Under the ADEA, the following classes of individuals are not protected:
- Independent contractors;
- A state or political subdivision’s elected officials;
- An elected official’s staff, immediate advisers, and policymakers.
Also, some exceptions aren’t so outright. Firefighters and law enforcement officers, for example, may be required to retire at a certain age. There will be no violation of the ADEA, so you cannot bring an age discrimination claim.
Almost every state has laws prohibiting age discrimination, even if the ADEA does not specifically apply to you. There are many state laws that are more comprehensive and also address age discrimination against younger people. As a result, workplace protections are broader.
What Protections Does the ADEA Afford to People?
Under the ADEA, individuals 40 and over are considered a protected class for employment law purposes. Employers cannot engage in the following actions against these individuals:
- Forcing retirement because of age;
- Refusing to hire someone because of their age;
- Refusing to refer someone for a job based on their age;
- Laying off or firing an employee based on their age;
- A promotion being denied to an employee because of their age;
- Compensation or benefits based on age;
- A failure to provide training or job assignments to an employee due to their age;
- Age-based harassment of an employee;
- Retaliating against someone for opposing age discrimination practices; and
- Age discrimination is any action related to a term, condition, or privilege of employment.
ADEA also provides protections in other situations, such as when posting job ads. If the employer cannot prove that age is a bona fide occupational qualification for the specific position, then age preferences or limitations should not be included. Look at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) website for other protections that may apply.
In the Workplace, What Constitutes Age Discrimination?
The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees aged 40 and older on the basis of their age. An employer cannot make decisions about an employee’s employment based on his or her age if the employee is 40 or older.
Courts have interpreted “because of” to mean that the employee must show that the employer’s actions were motivated by age. The employer wouldn’t have made the decision it did if not for the person’s age.
Workers over 40 are prohibited from discrimination in employment decisions under the law. The following are examples of age discrimination:
- Discrimination in hiring, or refusing to hire someone because of their age;
- Promotion discrimination; or not promoting someone because of their age;
- Wage and salary discrimination: paying workers differently based on their age;
- Discrimination in the termination of employment and in layoffs: firing or laying off a person because of their age;
- Denying benefits to older workers: an employer may reduce 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;
Starting in 1993, mandatory retirement was phased out for tenured workers, such as college professors, in most sectors of the economy.
Mandatory retirement based on age is still permitted for executives over the age of 65 or in a high policy-making position.
Many states also prohibit age discrimination. Age discrimination victims may be entitled to damages compensation and job restoration as remedies.
How Is Age Discrimination Proven?
A person must demonstrate at trial that an employer made employment decisions based on the person’s age and that the person was at least 40 years old to prove age discrimination.
There are two ways to establish age discrimination.
One is to prove “disparate treatment.” Disparate treatment means that someone was treated differently than other employees by an employer because of differences in their age. Disparate treatment is intentional discrimination.
The other way is to establish that an employer’s actions had a disparate impact on its workers because of their age.
Anyone who wants to prove age discrimination in employment would have to present the testimony of witnesses, documents, and possibly expert witness testimony to show the employer’s decisions, the reasons for them, and their effect.
Is There a Time Limit for Filing an Age Discrimination Claim?
An age discrimination claim must be filed within a certain time. You must file your claim before the deadline. If the time limit has expired, your claim will be dismissed unless there is a very good reason why you delayed filing it.
How Can I Make a Claim Under the ADEA?
The EEOC can be contacted if you feel that you have been subjected to age discrimination at work. The agency will investigate your claim, and a determination will be made. It is also possible to settle your claim at this stage if the employer is willing to negotiate. People who claim age discrimination often seek monetary damages and rehire.
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.
To determine if you should move forward, you will need to evaluate your chances of prevailing in court and the estimated costs. If you have a state court claim as well, you should determine which venue will provide you with the best odds.
Throughout all of this, expect the employer to have some defenses. One possible defense is the bona fide occupational qualification exception. It is also possible for an employer to argue that the employment decision was not based on age but on other factors, such as poor performance or another candidate with more experience.
To win your case, you will need strong evidence. Emails, texts, and witness statements that demonstrate age discrimination are included in this category. You may also be able to make your case using statistics and company history regarding employment actions that favor younger employees.
What’s the Timeline in Filing an ADEA Claim?
Before filing a claim against your employer under the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA), you must report your employer’s conduct to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Once the EEOC reviews the allegations, it will issue a “right-to-sue” letter to the employee if it finds that the employee has a case.
In the 60 days following the filing of your claim with the EEOC, you may file a lawsuit. It is, however, impossible to file a lawsuit after 90 days after you receive a letter from the EEOC stating that the investigation has been completed.
How Long Do I Have to File a Claim in State Court?
Most states have anti-age discrimination laws and agencies similar to the EEOC. Receiving a “right to sue” letter from a state agency triggers the right to sue in state court. You must consult your state laws to determine the time limit for filing a lawsuit. It does not affect your federal case, however, if you trigger a state claim.
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
Before filing a lawsuit, you should consult with a lawyer. An experienced discrimination lawyer will be able to walk you through the filing process and inform you of any important deadlines or requirements you must meet.