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Age Discrimination

Age discrimination occurs when someone is treated adversely solely because of his or her age. For example, an employer may face age discrimination claims by failing to promote workers over 40 years old in favor of younger workers with identical qualifications. Age discrimination also can occur when someone is harassed because of his or her age -- similar to how sexual harassment is technically an act of sex discrimination. In addition to employment, federal laws also prohibit age discrimination in education and federally funded health care programs. While the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies only to those 40 and older, other federal laws protect people of all ages.

Age Discrimination in Employment

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of their age, specifically those older than 40, under the federal ADEA. In addition, the federal Older Workers' Benefit Protection Act prohibits age discrimination in the determination of benefits and retirement. While recruiters often use terms such as "recent graduates encouraged to apply" to attract younger workers, the use of specific age limitations in job advertisements or in the hiring process violates the ADEA.

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work on the basis of your age, and you are at least 40 years old, then you may file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the alleged violation. The EEOC will send a notice to 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, you will be issued a "right to sue" letter.

Age Discrimination in Education

Discrimination based on age in all educational programs was prohibited with the passage of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, which applies to all institutions that receive federal financial assistance. This law is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education. 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 or deny them the benefits of any program or activity.

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

Age Discrimination in Federally Funded Health Programs

The Age Discrimination Act also prohibits age discrimination in the procurement of federally funded health care, as enforced by the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The elderly 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 years old, 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 point is, 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. Complaints should be filed 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 is illegal in many settings. Click on a link below for more details.

Learn About Age Discrimination