At the end of 2014, a verdict in favor of Wanda Sinclair, Diane Sherard, Elizabeth Mercado and Sharon Holder was awarded in the amount of $680,000. The verdict was the result of this group of plaintiffs bringing a case against the City of New York in 2009.
The reason the four women brought this case forward was after each serving the City of New York through their work in the Housing Preservation Department for several decades, they had never been selected to fill key leadership positions. Despite the fact that the women, who were African-American and Hispanic, had successfully steered large projects to completion and supervised younger employees, open positions for leadership roles were given to considerably younger, less experienced and mostly white candidates.
The increasing prominence of age discrimination
If the scenario described in the previous paragraph sounds very familiar, it’s because age discrimination has become an increasingly prominent problem over the last two decades. Age discrimination is formally defined as treating an applicant or employee less favorably as a result of his or her age.
Most of the key issues related to age discrimination are covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which provides protection to individuals who are at least 40 years old. As outlined by the ADEA, hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment are all issues which fall under the umbrella of age discrimination.
In addition to covering employment conditions, the ADEA also prohibits any kind of frequent or severe harassment that results in creating a work environment that is offensive or hostile.
What is age discrimination?
As with many forms of discrimination and harassment, the act of age discrimination may not be immediately apparent. Since this act can take many different forms, the following five examples are reflective of the wide spectrum that age discrimination covers:
- A recruiting pamphlet or job ad mentions a preferred age for that position.
- An age limit is set for a training program within an organization.
- An employer explicitly states that they will take retaliatory action if age discrimination charges are filed.
- With all but a few exceptions, anyone forced to retire at a certain age is a victim of age discrimination.
- Policies that impact older workers more than younger ones. For example, a school district deciding not to hire teachers with over 20 years of experience would be classified as age discrimination.
While the above examples help to bring more clarity to the issue of age discrimination, they’re just the tip of the iceberg in terms of scenarios that can fall into this category. It’s also worth noting that under the ADEA, employees can’t be denied the ability to participate in an employer’s benefit plan based on their age. However, for benefits like life insurance, an employer is only obligated to spend the same amount on employees of all ages. Due to the nature of life insurance, this can legitimately result in younger employees receiving greater coverage.
What to do if you believe you’re a victim of age discrimination
When it comes to evaluating potential and current employees, decisions should be based on merit and not age. Employers who refuse to comply with this approach to hiring and retention can create very bad situations for older employees. If you believe that you have been the victim of age discrimination, it’s important to take action in a timely manner.
One of the reasons it’s so important to not put off taking action is because the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) generally requires charges to be filed within 180 days of when discrimination first occurred. Although some states have provisions that extend this deadline to 300 days, filing within 180 days, if at all possible, is the best way to avoid additional complications.
While it’s possible to file a charge with the EEOC on your own, it’s generally advisable to first seek legal counsel. Since the EEOC will notify an employer and begin investigating upon receiving a complaint, things can start moving very quickly. Having professional legal guidance during this time can help ensure that your rights aren’t violated.
Moving forward with an age discrimination complaint
Once you’ve spoken with legal counsel and filed your complaint, you will hear back from the EEOC as its investigation proceeds. Because the EEOC only brings legal action in a small percentage of cases, it’s common for it to send a right to sue letter. Although many individuals are under the belief that they have to wait for the letter before moving forward, a federal lawsuit can be filed as early as 60 days after you file your initial EEOC charge.
Not accidentally wasting time is another example of why it’s best to enlist professional legal help as early in this process as possible.