Age discrimination—two words nobody ever wants to hear. It’s one of the ugliest forms of discrimination, as well as one of the most widely practiced. For all the laws and the press and the talk about it, making assumptions about someone’s age still happens, particularly in the workplace.
Even with the Age Discrimination In Employment Act, the AARP estimates that 64% of workers admit that they have witnessed ageism in the workplace. With 1 in 5 workers over the age of 55, it’s not a stretch. Even job seekers over 35 see their age as an obstacle to finding a new job. Even in the current stronger economy, workers “over a certain age” are being left unemployed, all because of their age.
But proving age discrimination is an uphill climb. Most employers have not only been trained on how not to discriminate, but they’ve also found ways around the system to make sure they aren’t caught. It’s not usually the blatant comment that “you’re too old to do this job now.” Employers have become more subtle in age discrimination. So what can you do?
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. in 2009 makes proving age discrimination much more difficult. This case increased the burden of proof that you will have to meet to prove that you’ve been subjected to age discrimination, and you must prove that age was the primary reason for a firing, layoff or demotion, and not combined with something else (such as a poor performance review.) Because of this increased difficulty, employers have become better at hiding it.
If you’ve heard comments about age, directed at you or others, keep a record of everything. But outright age discrimination isn’t always that obvious, and most employers know how to conceal it.
Like other types of discrimination, there are some signs to look for and document:
- You’ve been passed over for promotion repeatedly, despite the promotion of younger employees with less experience
- Younger workers are invited to training, meetings or other work-related activities that you (and other older workers) aren’t
- You’re frequently asked about when you plan to retire, especially by your boss or HR (document these kinds of comments with name, date, time and witnesses.) These kinds of comments may also constitute harassment and create a hostile work environment.
- After years of positive performance reviews, you are suddenly “written up” or given disciplinary documentation, when younger workers are not for the same “infractions”
- Your job responsibilities have dramatically changed so that you are unable to complete them (such as much higher and more difficult sales targets)
- You (and others like you) are being treated very differently than younger employees
- Promotions, transfers and new hires are increasingly younger and younger, while older workers are given different responsibilities or systematically laid off.
- Younger workers are being offered different types of benefits
There are some types of positions, such as airline pilots, where age is a factor, and you may not be able to file a complaint.
If you’ve been discriminated against, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC.) The agency notes a marked increase of ageism complaints since 1997, with more than 25,000 filed per year since 2008.
Voluntary and/or mandatory retirement
In some cases, this may also be a form of age discrimination, since it’s offered to older, tenured and thus more expensive workers. If the company is actively working to shed workers over 50 or so, be sure to review everything before you sign anything (or have your lawyer review them for you.) If you discover later that you were, in fact, discriminated against, you may have signed away the right to sue the company later in exchange for your retirement package.
Filing a suit like this one can be draining, both emotionally and financially. It also brands you as a “high-risk applicant,” because any other employer may be afraid to hire for fear of litigation later. Whether you win or lose such a lawsuit, you may face increased difficulty in finding employment. So in addition to being over a certain age, suing a former employer may make you completely unemployable.
Age discrimination is against the law
There are strict laws in the US against all discrimination. If you believe you’ve been the target of age discrimination in Denver, call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165 for a free consultation. We’re experienced in helping people like you fight back. We can help you file your EEOC complaint, and represent you in court when the time comes.