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Age Discrimination Act of 1975

Getting older is a natural progression in life. But, some of the associations that come with age, like gray hair and hearing aids, can garner negative perceptions. Some people believe that older people and the elderly are out of touch and cannot contribute as much to society as younger people. These stereotypes and negative attitudes foster age discrimination.

Although age discrimination is typically associated with older people, it can affect people of all ages. Lawmakers passed the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 to promote nondiscrimination and ensure equal opportunities despite a person's age. This article discusses the key provisions and impact of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.

Scope of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975

Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VI provisions and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 states that: "[N]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of age, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under, any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." (42 U.S.C. § 6102). These federal government-assisted programs include:

  • Educational programs
  • Health care services
  • Housing
  • Welfare
  • Food stamps
  • Rehabilitation programs

The Age Discrimination Act binds federal agencies and beneficiaries of federal funds.

Age Discrimination Act of 1975 vs. Age Discrimination in Employment Act

These two federal statutes are often confused because both laws prohibit age discrimination. But the laws are very different. Although the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) became law before the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, the Age Discrimination Act does not change or amend the ADEA. It does not target older Americans as the ADEA does, but it generally protects age by not defining an age group. This means that people of various ages have protection from discrimination.

In comparison, the ADEA protects certain applicants and employees 40 years of age or older from discrimination on the basis of age. The ADEA is for employment practices, like providing equal employment opportunities (EEO). The Age Discrimination Act applies to a broader range of people affected by federally funded programs, including students and employees. Many groups filing complaints for violations under the Age Discrimination Act are students of various ages, and many have filed complaints citing age discrimination in admissions to community colleges and graduate schools. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services enforce the Age Discrimination Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the ADEA. Age discrimination regulations are in the Code of Federal Regulations at 34 CFR part 110.

Exemptions Under the Age Discrimination Act

Although the statute forbids age discrimination, it is OK to use certain age restrictions under the following conditions:

  • If the age distinction is necessary for the normal operation of the activity or program or
  • If there are factors other than age that have a key relationship to the activity or program objectives

Age Distinction Is Necessary for the Normal Operation of the Activity/Program

The statute allows programs and activities to function normally and efficiently; if an age distinction makes that possible, it is acceptable. Consider a special intern program for hospitality industry majors at a federally funded university. One of the requirements is the ability of students to serve alcohol. The university could say that making an age distinction — not admitting students under 21 — would be necessary for the program to function.

Other Factors Have a Relationship to the Activity/Program

The Age Discrimination Act includes allowances for reasonable factors other than age if there is a direct relationship to the activity or program. The action cannot be based on age. These factors could include:

  • Past experience
  • Financial considerations
  • Security, depending on the specific circumstances

For example, an older woman wants to adopt her foster son, but her request is not approved. She alleges it is because of her age, but another factor — her health — could be a reason for the denial.

Get Help With Your Age Discrimination Claim

The commitment to upholding age discrimination laws extends past federal oversight. State and local governments oversee the rules, such as the state's attorney general. You should talk to an attorney if you have an age discrimination claim under the Age Discrimination Act. An attorney who knows about discrimination can help you assert your rights. Civil rights law protections extend past age protections. Civil rights include protections against discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Ethnicity
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Age

For more information about civil rights laws, visit FindLaw's Civil Rights Laws page.

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