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Workplace Age Discrimination Explained

Technically speaking, age discrimination in the workplace is illegal. It was made that way by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA, some 50 years ago. This federal law was specifically intended to protect workers who were 40 years or older in age from being mistreated in the workplace in favor of younger workers and applied to employers with more than 19 employees.

Recently, the Supreme Court decided a case, Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco that has many worried that the government has just wiped out ADEA protections. This is not true. What did happen is that the court limited liability to an existing employee of the defendant company at the time that the discrimination occurred.

What is Not Allowed by an Employer

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employer is still not allowed to discriminate based on age when it relates to employment matters such as:

  • Firing
  • Pay
  • Job assignments
  • Promotions
  • Layoffs
  • Training
  • Benefits

Further, the law also prohibits any harassment based on age discrimination or policy that causes a distinct negative impact on older employees.

Actions That Don't Count as a Claim

There is a common myth that an employer asking about one's age or date of school graduation is discrimination. This is not true. It is perfectly allowable. What would be necessary for a claim is to be able to prove that the employer used that answer specifically as the primary basis of a discriminatory act, which is a very hard claim to prove alone by itself.

Filing a claim with the EEOC is quite possible but it does not automatically translate into a lawsuit for the complaining party. The EEOC annually receives more than 20,800 claims just on age discrimination alone and picks those cases that may have the most far-reaching regulatory impact.

If you think your situation may involve discrimination, an experienced employment law attorney should review the issue.

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