Age discrimination is illegal
Federal and state laws protect employees 40 years and older from being terminated (or suffering certain other adverse actions) because of their age. The federal law, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, states (in part) that it is “unlawful for an employer…to fail to refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age…” As stated, it is also illegal for an employer to refuse to hire a potential employee because of that person’s age.
I think my employer is about to terminate me because of my age. What should I do?
If you feel you are about to be terminated illegally, you should document everything. Legal cases can take a long time to get through the judicial system and memory fades over time. While you still can, document evidence of age discrimination.
Evidence of age discrimination can include comments made about older age (including off-handed remarks or jokes). It can also include comments that indicate a preference for younger employees. Write down the name of the person who said it, her title, where the comment was said, when the comment was made and the names and contact information of any person who may have witnessed the comment. Supervisors, managers and owners who make these comments are especially important to remember.
Record the names and contact information of any other employees who may have suffered age discrimination or who may have witnessed age discrimination. Write down the names and contact information of substantially younger employees who may have been treated more favorably. Sometimes witnesses want to be helpful and tell their stories; sometimes they don’t want to cooperate and are hard to find, despite having important evidence of age discrimination. Write down their information now, before you’re trying to find “Cathy something, who sat in the cubicle next to me” two years from now.
It can be important to preserve documents, such as performance evaluations (particularly those which rate your performance positively), or even performance improvement plans (perhaps those which rate your performance unfairly or held you to higher standards compared to younger employees). Track down and keep (or make a copy of) any documents that might contain a comment about age; for instance, is there a piece of paper tacked up in the staff room that is joking about an old man? Take a photo of it; it may have seemed funny at one point but it could be evidence of age discrimination later.
Have you told your employer that you think you or a co-worker is being discriminated against because of age? If so, document that information (for example, when you complained, to whom you complained, what the response to your complaint was). Has your employer retaliated against you because of your complaint of age discrimination?
I think my employer terminated me because of my age. What should I do?
Much like the steps above, document everything that you can remember right now: write down the comments, look up the contact information for potential witnesses and preserve written documents. Gather the information you still have or that you can still obtain, such as performance evaluations. There are allegations in other age discrimination cases that an employer altered an otherwise favorable performance evaluation; sometimes employers ‘can’t seem to find’ those great evaluations after the termination. Whatever you can do now to preserve evidence of age discrimination, do it.
You should also be careful about signing any documents, such as severance agreements or exit interviews. Do those documents contain a release of claims? Are you giving up your right to file an age discrimination complaint?
Bringing an age discrimination claim
The legal process can be tricky. Where will you file your age discrimination claim? Can you file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? Should you? Are you required to? We can answer all your questions about age discrimination and the legal process. Call or email any time; we’re here to help you.