When an individual faces unfair treatment in the workplace because of his or her age, he or she may be considered to be a victim of age discrimination. Age discrimination can be as damaging as other forms of discrimination, such as racial, sex-based or religion-based discrimination. Just like these other forms of discrimination, age discrimination is illegal in the United States.
Age discrimination usually occurs when companies want to save money by hiring younger, less expensive employees. In certain industries, companies might opt to hire younger employees because of the image or culture that such employees may appear to embody.
If you are unsure of whether you have experienced age discrimination, contact an employment attorney to discuss your case and determine the best course of action. Remember, discrimination refers to a pattern of behavior that is pervasive to the point of damaging your career. One-off comments and isolated incidents, although uncomfortable and sometimes frustrating, are not enough to justify a discrimination claim.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that protects American workers ages 40 and older from discrimination in the workplace. This law, like other federal anti-discrimination laws, is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). All government employers and private employers with 20 or more employees may be found guilty of violating this law.
Although the ADEA only protects workers who are 40 years old and older from age-based discrimination, some states have laws in place to protect younger workers as well. If you are younger than 40 and feel you have been a victim of age discrimination in your workplace, find out about your state’s age discrimination laws to see if you are protected.
Perpetrators of age discrimination can be any age. It does not matter if the individual acting in a discriminatory manner is older or younger than the victim. As long as an individual experienced age-related discrimination and was 40 or over when it occurred, he or she may have grounds for an age discrimination claim.
Examples of Age Discrimination
Age discrimination, like other types of discrimination, is any behavior taken against an individual that sabotages or derails his or her career. This can be done through overt behavior, such as firing an individual or refusing to promote him or her or through more subtle tactics, such as repeatedly attempting to alienate the individual or harassing him or her to the point that he or she cannot effectively perform his or her job. Some examples of age discrimination that can occur in the workplace include:
- Passing over a qualified employee for a promotion in favor of a younger individual.
- Failing to hire an individual on the basis that he or she is too old for the position.
- Any comments that the interviewer or hiring manager makes about your age during the interview process can be used as support for this type of claim. Examples of comments may include verbally noting your graduation year or commenting on the length and dates of your employment history.
- Repeatedly making comments about an individual that draw attention to his or her age. These comments can range from simple teasing to outright bullying of older employees.
- Encouraging an older employee to retire despite his or her current performance or ability to do the job.
- Leaving an older employee out of meetings and projects.
- Treating an older employee differently from the other employees in his or her department or company. This can include disciplining him or her for offenses that other employees are not disciplined for committing or treating the older employee like he or she is incompetent or unable to learn and work with technologies used in the workplace.
- Giving an older employee poor performance reviews despite his or her actual performance.
If you have experienced any of these behaviors in your workplace, you have the right to file an age discrimination claim against your employer. Do not allow yourself to be mistreated or bullied in your workplace.
Proving Age Discrimination
Age discrimination can be more difficult to prove than other forms of discrimination, such as race or sex-based discrimination, because it often tends to be more indirect and circumstantial than these other types of discrimination. Despite this, or perhaps because it is so difficult to identify and address correctly, age discrimination is somewhat common in American workplaces. In a recent AARP survey, 34 percent of respondents age 50 and older had personally experienced age discrimination or knew somebody who had.
Document all instances you perceive to be discriminatory toward you based on your age. These can include memos, emails, conversations and any employees who you feel receive favorable treatment when compared to you, such as receiving a promotion that you applied for. Note any comments you hear related to issues like “cultivating a younger image” or “getting fresh blood into the company” as support for your claim.
If You are a Victim of Age Discrimination
The first individual you should notify of the discrimination you face is your supervisor. Tell him or her about the discrimination you are experiencing and how it is affecting your work. If the issue cannot be resolved, make a formal complaint to your company’s Human Resources department. Usually, Human Resources will be able to address your needs and resolve your issue.
If your complaint to Human Resources does not resolve your issue, contact an experienced employment attorney to discuss the possibility of filing a claim with the EEOC. The EEOC is tasked with investigating any alleged violations of anti-discrimination laws in the United States. If the EEOC determines the discrimination you faced is, in fact, in violation of its laws, you may receive a settlement for any losses you suffered related to the discrimination. If the EEOC does not find your experience to be a violation of anti-discrimination law, your attorney might want to bring your claim to court to have a judge determine whether you are entitled to receive a settlement for your losses.