A worker being replaced by a younger worker does not always indicate age discrimination. On the other hand, it does not mean it was not either. Many companies feel they must hire younger employees to keep up with technological advances, believing that younger hires are smarter technically.
When someone turns 40, their friends often joke that they are “over the hill”. What’s not funny is many companies feel this way too. Their fear of falling behind their competitors in technology leads them to ignore the adage, “experience is the best teacher”. Many of the people working for them already use and are proficient with the necessary technology to perform their jobs at a high level.
If you have received favorable performance rating, completed your assignments, not been turned down for promotion, or have not had any unfavorable actions, and the company simply replaced you with a younger worker, you should visit a counselor at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and present your case.
What is age discrimination?
Age discrimination is treating anyone differently based on their age. In an employment situation, refusal to promote or even hire because of age is known as age discrimination. However, according to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) age discrimination is only prohibited when it is applied to workers over the age of 40. The EEOC is the enforcement agency or moderator for all instances or allegations of discrimination in the workforce.
When a company states that someone over 40 is too old for the job, they get passed over for a promotion, or a better job position is denied solely because that person is over the age of 40, then that is considered unlawful age discrimination.
Unlawful dismissal or wrongful termination
Wrongful termination is when someone is fired without just cause. Age is not considered just cause for termination and protections in some states begin before 40. Many states have better laws and protections for younger employees. On the other hand, if a person could no longer perform the requirements of their job, even with reasonable accommodations by the company, the company would be allowed to terminate them. Whether or not severance pay is due depends on state law or their employment contract if there was one. Whenever a company states, “you are too old,” “we decided to go with a younger candidate,” “it is time for you to retire,” or gives any reason for your termination to do with age, if you are over 40, then you may have a strong claim for age discrimination. Age cannot be used as a criterion to lay off a group of workers over 40, either.
How to file a claim
If you feel like you are being discriminated against at work, you were denied promotion, you did not receive a bonus, denied training, or any other favorable benefit because of your age, you should bring this up with the Human Resources department or administration. It could just have been an oversight.
However, when you cannot reach a favorable resolution and you feel you were wrongfully terminated based on your age, you should go directly to the EEOC office and file a Charge of Discrimination. This is also true if you were told, they are only considering 25- to 40-year-olds for the job.
You can also visit the EEOC website to file a charge of discrimination. This must be done before you can file a lawsuit against the company. The EEOC will then investigate the policies and practices of the company. If it is found there was a violation of state and federal laws pertaining to age discrimination, they will propose a settlement to the company for you. There may be other charges against the company depending on how widespread the violations are.
When the EEOC investigation fails to find any wrongdoing, they could turn the case over to the Department of Justice (DOJ) or offer you a notice for the right to file a civil suit.
Is a lawyer necessary?
While the EEOC is investigating or if the DOJ file suit against the company or corporation, you probably do not need a lawyer unless either authority tells you to hire one. When the DOJ files suit, they will act on your behalf. If you are filing a lawsuit, then yes, it is very important to have a lawyer.
If the EEOC fails to find any wrongdoing, you should consult an employment lawyer before deciding to file a civil suit. Discrimination is the EEOC’s main function. If they could not find any wrongdoing, there either isn’t any or it is so well disguised that a good lawyer will not find it either.
Many lawyers take compensation cases on a contingency basis and provide an initial consultation free of charge. Therefore, they will tell you point blank if they believe you have no chance or very little chance of winning. By using an attorney who specializes in employment law, you can even the field a little if you do go to court. If there is any merit to your case the company will probably agree to a settlement.