Age Discrimination Law: What it is and How it Works

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the age discrimination employment act is part of an unprecedented number of social legislation passed by the Johnson Administration after the death of President Kennedy.  It was known as the Great Society.  This period saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Medicare and Medicaid, funding for elementary and secondary schools, transportation safety legislation and training for the poor.  The age discrimination in employment act of 1967(ADEA) was part of this legislation.

Employers and Employees Covered by ADEA

The ADEA applies to employers with twenty or more employers, local, state and federal governments, employment agencies and labor organizations.  The act applies to employees 40 and over.  During the Regan Administration, the ADEA was amended to remove the age cap of 70 relating to the maximum age of employed worker protected by the act.  It was amended in 1991 to prohibit discrimination relating to benefits and retirement.

Prohibited Treatment Under ADEA Law

The  ADEA prohibited discrimination against a person because of their age of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.  It also prohibits retaliation against an individual who opposes discriminatory employment practices, or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA.  ADEA protections include:

Apprenticeship Programs – Age discrimination is unlawful in apprentice programs, including joint labor-management programs.  Age limitations are only valid in these programs if they fall within specific ADEA exceptions or the EEOC grants a specific exception

Job Notices and Advertisements – Age limitations, preferences or specification are illegal in job notices and advertisements.  They can only be listed if they are a "bona fide occupational qualification" (BFOQ) reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business. (This happens rarely).

Pre-Employment Inquiries – This is not actually prohibited by the ADEA but because questions about age could deter older workers for applying or indicate intent to discriminate against older workers requests for age information is closely scrutinized to make sure it was for a lawful purpose.

Benefits – the ADEA was amended in 1990 to specific prohibit employers from denying benefits to older workers.  This recognizes that the cost of benefits to older workers is usually higher than that for younger workers.  Benefits can be limited because of an employee’s age only in limited circumstances.

Waiver of ADEA Rights -- An employer may ask an employee to waive his/her rights or claims under the ADEA either in the settlement of an ADEA administrative or court claim or in connection with an exit incentive program or other employment termination program.  The 1990 amendments to ADEA set out minimum requirements that must be met in order for a waiver to be valid.

How is the law enforced?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency mandated to enforce the law under the ADEA in addition to other civil rights laws.  There are field, district, and local offices of the EEOC.  Most states have a human relations office or EEOC in their states that investigate claims of eeoc age discrimination.  The EEOC has work sharing agreements with the state offices so that a claim filed in a state office would also be dually filed in the federal office to protect workers federal rights.  If a claim were filed in a federal office, the federal office would file the same claim with the state counterpart to protect the worker’s state rights.  State laws can provide more rights than the federal statutes.

If you think you have been a victim of age discrimination at work, consult a lawyer who specializes in employment law.  They can advise you on the strength or weakness of your age discrimination case, give you information about what you need to prove and what timelines are important.  They can provide you with information on any rights you may have against age discrimination under state law.  State law may give you additional protections against age discrimination.

The ADEA was enacted to protect workers over the age of 40 for discrimination in employment.  It applies to employers with more than 20 employees, local, state, and federal governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations and state and federal agencies.  It prohibits age discrimination in apprenticeship programs, job advertisements and notices, pre-employment inquiries and benefits.  The law is enforced by the EEOC, which has field, local, and district offices.  A claim filed in a state human relations office that has work sharing agreement with the federal eeoc will protect your rights under state and federal law.  Many employment lawyers will take these cases on a contingency basis.  Seek competent legal counsel.


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