How to Sue for Age Discrimination
Age discrimination is usually seen as a workplace problem, but unfortunately, you can face discrimination in all areas of life.
For example, a recreational sports team might ask for "active, dynamic" members, then deny older applicants. Age discrimination cases can be tricky, as a maze of laws can counteract each other. They often require a nuanced examination to determine what is legal and what isn't.
However, federal and state laws make one thing clear: you should never receive negative treatment based on your age.
The reality is that bad treatment based on age still takes place every day — from local shops to nursing homes to college applications. Whether your situation involved employment action or another legal practice area, you deserve protection from age discrimination in every stage of life.
The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 protects you from age discrimination in programs that receive money from the federal government. For example, your age cannot be the reason you were:
- Denied federal housing (rentals can legally require someone to be 18 years old)
- Denied access to federally funded programs such as food stamps
- Denied admission to college, university, or school programs
Note: Not everything is protected under the Age Discrimination Act. You can also face age-related legal issues if your family does not think you are "of sound mind" or your medical choices are ignored. These are not handled under discrimination lawsuits and are generally issues within family law, elder law, or estate planning law (involving creating/following medical powers of attorney). There can also be concerns when a minor reaches adulthood but is considered a vulnerable adult.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) gives you protection from being fired after age 40 or told you are "too old to work" a certain job. Additionally, everyone, including those deemed "older workers," has rights under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.
States may provide additional protections. Some states, for example, protect all workers over age 18 from age discrimination.
While state laws can vary on employment rules, discrimination is always illegal. A discrimination case can go all the way to the Supreme Court if the local and state courts cannot make a fair decision.
Do You Have an Employment-Related Age Discrimination Claim?
Employment-related age discrimination is a subset of employment discrimination. You should follow these steps to understand if you have a case for age discrimination:
- Find an attorney who knows employment laws for your state and has a strong presence in court to help present you as a victim of age discrimination.
- Study your state's statute of limitations. You must be within the time limits to bring a lawsuit. This is usually a 300-day limit, though it can vary in some states. Bringing a lawsuit within 180 days is recommended.
- Read the EEOC details on filing a charge of discrimination or call them at 1-800-669-4000 to understand the process. You must file this charge before you can file a lawsuit.
- Read your workplace's employment practices to understand if they are discriminating. This might have happened to past co-workers, which could turn your claims into a class action lawsuit.
- Review the anti-discrimination laws for your state or call an attorney for a free consultation to understand if you have a case based on age.
Suing for Age Discrimination
Once an attorney has assured you that you have an age discrimination case, you can file a lawsuit claiming discriminatory action from your employer. You can expect the steps to generally follow this path:
- The attorney will draft the documents necessary to bring a lawsuit. You should review the documents, ask any questions about them, and then sign them.
- The lawsuit is delivered to your employer, and they have to respond to your attorney. If they do not answer, you may win the case.
- Both sides will prepare evidence, find witnesses and topic experts, and develop reasons why they should win the case.
- Both sides will present evidence in court proving their side of the story. You may be asked to talk about potentially uncomfortable topics in front of the judge, such as your age, emotional distress, and other negative impacts the job loss has caused.
- You may have the option to settle, negotiate, or continue the court battle until one side wins. If you lose, you may be able to appeal the decision and go back to court.
- You may be paid back pay and punitive damages if you win. Your attorney's fees will come out of this money. If you lose, you may need to pay attorney fees and any damages the other side asked for.
Don't Assume Your Company Is Right
HR or your company handbook can make it seems like an employee's age is a reasonable factor in hiring or firing someone.
For example, the clothing retailer Abercrombie had a "look policy" for its customer-facing employees that all but stated the ages it would accept. Their look policy was under scrutiny for many reasons, and a case eventually went to federal court. But it was allowed for years before it was questioned.
Even if your company has a set policy, or claims they have valid reasons to set age limits, they may still be violating federal age discrimination laws.
When Age Discrimination Lawsuits Do Not Apply
You will not likely have a case if:
- Older employees and younger workers are equally being fired
- All employees are facing layoffs
- You are fired or let go for a valid reason as an "at will" employee
- There was a valid reason for the demotions of employees (or just you)
- Your performance reviews were poor and lead to the eventual firing
- You cannot complete job assignments (some companies need to adapt your workspace or tasks to help you)
- The company has fewer than 20 employees, is a government organization, or is an employment agency
The Truth About Age Discrimination Cases
Age discrimination cases can be challenging to win. They can turn into "they said, I said" battles unless you have strong evidence to support the claim. Talking to an attorney is the best way to understand if you would have your day in court, or if your case would be a time-consuming and financial drain on you.
You do have options, despite the complexities of winning these cases. You can negotiate outside of court or have your attorney ask for a settlement that ensures you are financially compensated without facing the timeline and unknown outcome of the court system.
Age bias is a serious offense, so do not let the reality of lawsuits deter you. Discuss your situation with an attorney. They may guide you to talk to HR or seek another solution. Many employment lawyers offer a free consultation over the phone, which can be a quick and convenient way to understand your options.
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.