Are you feeling picked on because you are older than your co-workers? Do you suspect you lost your job because you’re older, and because you made more money than younger workers?
Age discrimination has become a much more frequent complaint in recent years as more and more people are working into their retirement years.
If you feel like you are a victim of age discrimination, you need to be aware that proving it is extremely difficult to do. A 2009 Supreme Court decision raised the bar for the type of legal proof that workers need to prove discrimination.
With that said, here are the steps you’ll need to take to fight age discrimination if you think you’ve been treated unlawfully.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is your first defense against age discrimination. This is a federal law that says an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire, or treat you differently than other employees because of your age.
The ADEA protects all workers and job applicants age 40 and over who work for employers that have 20 or more employees – including federal, state and local governments as well as employment agencies and labor unions.
If your workplace has fewer than 20 employees, you may still be protected under your state’s anti-age discrimination law.
What to Do
If you think you are a victim of employment age discrimination, you may first want to talk to, or file a grievance with your company’s human resources department, but it’s important to remember that HR work for your employer, not for you.
If that doesn’t resolve the problem, you should file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days from the date of the alleged violation. You can do this online at the EEOC Public Portal (PublicPortal.EEOC.gov/Portal/Login.aspx), by mail or in person at your nearest EEOC office or call 800-669-4000. They will help you through the filing process and let you know if you should also file a charge with your state anti-discrimination agency.
If you do file, be prepared to provide the names of potential witnesses, your notes about age-related comments and other episodes.
Once the charge is filed, the EEOC will investigate your complaint and find either reasonable cause to believe that age discrimination has occurred, or no cause and no basis for a claim. After the investigation, the EEOC will then send you their findings along with a “notice-of-right-to-sue,” which gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law.
If you decide to sue, you’ll need to hire a lawyer who specializes in employee discharge suits.
If you lose your job in a group termination or layoff, you should consider joining forces with other colleagues. There are advantages to proceeding as a group, including sharing costs of the litigation and strengthening your negotiating position.
Another option you may want to consider is mediation, which is a fair and efficient way to help you resolve your employment disputes and reach an agreement. The EEOC offers mediation at no cost if your current or former employer agrees to participate. At mediation, you show up with your evidence, your employer presents theirs and the mediator makes a determination within a day or less.