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Age Discrimination

Age discrimination occurs when someone mistreats another because of their age. An employer may face age discrimination claims by failing to promote workers over age 40 in favor of younger workers with identical qualifications.

Federal laws also prohibit age discrimination in education and federally funded health care programs. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies only to those age 40 and older. But other federal laws protect people of all ages.

Federal law recognizes the significance of combating discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, and more. The Act protects you based on traits, such as race and national origin, and sex, including sexual orientation. However, age is not a protected class under Title VII.

Age Discrimination in Employment

Employers must not discriminate against employees and job applicants on the basis of age. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) covers those 40 and older. The ADEA applies to employers with at least 20 workers. It includes employment agencies that place applicants on job assignments.

In addition, the federal Older Workers' Benefit Protection Act prohibits age discrimination when determining benefits and retirement. Older people can also turn to state law for relief. States have separate age discrimination laws where plaintiffs can recover damages.

Direct vs. Indirect Age Discrimination

There are different forms of age discrimination. Someone at work may harass you because of your age. Or your employer may retaliate against you after you make a discrimination complaint. These actions are examples of more obvious and direct forms.

Sometimes, age discrimination is hard to recognize. It is not always an obvious violation. However, it helps to break down age discrimination into direct and indirect examples.

  • Direct Age Discrimination: Your employer treats you differently than another based on your age. The law may permit this type of discrimination if the employer can rationalize it. The employer can discriminate if they can "objectively justify" it by showing a valid reason for discriminating based on age. For instance, a construction company does not hire minors to work at their sites to protect minors from injury.
  • Indirect Age Discrimination: The company has a neutral practice or policy that hinders you because of your age. For example, the company policy requires that the upper managers have graduate degrees, but you are 22 and only have an undergrad degree. Being in this age group makes it less likely that you would have a graduate degree.

Violations Under the ADEA

If an employer makes employment decisions based on someone's age, it is not necessarily a violation under the ADEA. Remember to look for certain conduct to see if it violates the ADEA.

Recruiters often use terms such as "recent graduates encouraged to apply" to attract younger workers. Using specific age limitations in job advertisements or the hiring process violates the ADEA.

Every case is unique, but some violations continuously pop up in the workplace. Here are common examples of employer's discriminatory behavior:

  • Termination and layoffs after employees reach a specific age (mandatory retirement)
  • Making ageist comments
  • Refusing to train older employees
  • Refusing promotions or advancements for older employees due to their age
  • Harassment that creates a hostile work environment

Filing Complaints

You may file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if you meet the following requirements:

  • Your employer qualifies under the law
  • You are at least 40 years of age
  • You file within 180 days of the alleged violation

The EEOC will notify your employer within 10 days of the charge and then investigate the allegation to determine whether there is cause. If the EEOC finds cause for your charge, it will begin the "conciliation" process. And if that process fails, they will issue a "right to sue" letter.

Age Discrimination in Education

The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits age discrimination in all activities and programs receiving federal financial assistance. The Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education enforces this act.

Unlike ADEA, which limits claims to those 40 and older, the Age Discrimination Act applies to people of all ages. According to the code, an educational institution may not:

  • Use age distinctions to exclude individuals from participation
  • Deny them the benefits of any program or activity

But there are a few exceptions where age can be taken into account. For instance, colleges sometimes offer special programs for children or older adults. Another example is the requirement that students be a certain age to enroll in a driver's education program.

Age Discrimination in Federally Funded Health Programs

The Age Discrimination Act also prohibits age discrimination in procuring federally funded health care, as enforced by the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Older people are particularly vulnerable to such discrimination, even by well-meaning physicians unaware of their own biases.

For example, an individual who is active and otherwise healthy learns she has cancer. Since she is 93, her doctor suggests hospice care instead of treatment. It may very well be toward the end of her life, but she also may have several good years ahead of her. But, the doctor discriminated against her solely because of her age.

Since age discrimination in health care falls under the broader Age Discrimination Act, the process for filing a claim is the same as for age discrimination in education. You can file complaints with the Office for Civil Rights (DHHS) within 180 days of the alleged violation, although the OCR may extend this deadline for good cause.

Age discrimination may be hard to prove in many cases, but it is illegal in many settings. Click on a link below for more details.

Learn About Age Discrimination

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