The Lacy Employment Law firm

The Lacy Employment Law firm

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What Age Discrimination Lawyers Can Do For You

Today, employees work longer in life.  They also tend to work harder while doing so.  Many Americans feel that their retirement will never happen.  

Given that Americans now work longer than they used to, older works are pressured to keep their jobs for longer periods of time. 

At a certain point, companies often feel that they need to replace older workers.  Employers feel that this can lower their costs.  They believe that they can pay less-experienced workers less money.

If you’re an older employee, you might find yourself a target.  Companies are known to target older employees during downturns.

Fortunately, age discrimination attornies can help you navigate these issues.  Federal law protects older works from discrimination.  And, if you’re older than 40, you likely qualify for protections under it.

Who is Protected Under The Age Discrimination in Employment Act?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) protects employees against age discrimination.  The ADEA protects applicants and employees over 40 years old. 

The ADEA applies to companies with 20 or more employees.  This means that most companies cannot legally discriminate based on age.  

The ADEA does exempt highly paid executives.  Specifically, if you receive $44,000 a year in retirement income from your employer, you are not protected.  

If you’re a c-level executive, this statute does not protect you.  Otherwise, forcing an employee into early retirement violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Can you Sue for Age Discrimination?

You can sue for age discrimination.  Age discrimination claims are similar to Title VII claims.  You have to first file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).

The EEOC is an administrative agency of the federal government.  As an administrative agency, it has the power to investigate employment claims.  

The EEOC starts its investigation after an employee files a charge.  The EEOC will then start its investigation.  

The investigation is a fact-finding process. The EEOC might:

  • Conduct interviews;
  • Hold a fact-finding conference;
  • Send Requests for information; and
  • Send interrogatories, and/or affidavits. 

Employers are prohibited from interfering with the EEOC’s investigation.  

After the EEOC completes its investigation, you will likely have the right to sue.  Then, an age discrimination lawyer can take your case to federal court.  You should consult with an age discrimination attorney early in your process.

We recommend consulting an attorney once your first learn that you are facing discrimination.

When we think about discrimination in the workplace, ageism might not be the first thought that comes to mind.  But data shows that age discrimination claims make up a large portion of employment lawsuits.

This is EEOC Enforcement Data that shows that age discrimination claims make up a large portion of employment lawsuits. Information from Age Discrimination Lawyers

Age discrimination falls in line right after disability, race, and sex discrimination claims, making up a little over 20% of employment law claims.  

Ageism still is a prevalent problem in the workplace.  And you should be on the lookout for it. 

Can you Win an Age Discrimination Lawsuit?

You can absolutely win an age discrimination lawsuit.  Here’s an example.

The best examples of age discrimination are through cases that have already happened.  Let’s look at an example of age discrimination through a case heard in 2018.

This case is from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas (“Northern District of Texas”).   The Northern District of Texas is a trial court at the federal level.  If you decide to take your case to court, your case will also start in a federal trial court.

In this case, the employer STMicroelectronic’s, Inc (“STM”) moved for summary judgment against the Plaintiff, Charles Owen.  

Age discrimination case for Plaintiff, Charles Owen. Information from Age Discrimination Lawyers

Summary judgment is a legal term.  It means that both sides have had the chance to take discovery.  And now they are ready for a judge to decide if the case should go to trial.  Discovery is the process of gathering facts, taking depositions, exchanging documents, etc.

In civil cases, both sides have the chance to develop their case through discovery.  And after they do so, the judge will determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial.  If not, the judge dismisses the case.

A good age discrimination attorney can help you develop the facts and prevent a judge from dismissing your case.

Concerning the plaintiff, in this case, Mr. Owen, he provided evidence that he was passed up for a position.  Mr. Owen worked at STM as a lawyer.  He then left and returned to the company as a paralegal.  

After he returned, job openings for junior and senior attorney positions opened.  He expressed interest but was told that he had too much experience and that made him inflexible.  

The job went to someone 36 years of age.  Mr. Owen was 64.  The company eliminated his position.

The judge in the case likely would have dismissed the case if Mr. Owen had not been told that the company needed someone less experienced and flexible.  

The judge commented that someone could take this simply as a code word for age.  And the judge allowed this case to go to trial.  

This means that he likely got a big settlement in his case (over 90% of cases settle).

The case highlights a dilemma for employees.  You hope to prove your age discrimination claim.  You believe that you were passed over.  But no one has made a comment like “you’re inflexible;” so you think you have no case.

Mr. Owen did something I recommend you do if you think your employer is using your age against you.

You should speak up.  Mr. Owen expressed his interest in a senior position.  He did not quietly apply for one.  

If he said nothing, the ageist comment would not have been made.  And he would have no case.

When you are on the job, ask for feedback.  Make your employer give you a reason why you are not advancing.  Then, after they do, document the response.  People tend to reveal their true thoughts over time.

Reverse Discrimination Recognized is not Recognized Under the ADEA

Younger workers might wonder if they have protection against wrongful termination.  

In the United States, employment is at will.  That means that an employer can fire you for any lawful reason.

The lawful reason usually means that there is no law protecting you against firing.  

Employment laws protect numerous groups of people. This would include, race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, etc.

Congress has not passed legislation protecting younger employees.  

In race discrimination cases, courts have recognized reverse discrimination cases.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on race.

Most know, that this statute came during the civil rights era.  It intended to protect minorities.

But, as mentioned, reverse racism is recognized.  That means that minorities cannot discriminate against white people in employment.

In age discrimination cases, reverse discrimination is not recognized.  There is no protection for younger employees.  Employers can favor older employees over younger employees if they choose.

Proving Age Discrimination in Reductions in Force

More common than in other types of employment law claims, the discrimination may be a result of a layoff.  When we think about mass layoffs, we are talking about reductions in force (“RIF”).

Companies take differing approaches to RIFs.  But they all implement RIFs based on some sort of criteria.  This means that they try to develop some way to conduct that layoff that does not target a particular group.  

For example, a company may pick performance as the most important factor.  Another employer might decide the most important factor is skill.  Numerous employers mix different factors to create their performance criteria.

Their goal, however, is to make sure that they avoid lawsuits.

Employers take extra care with older employees who tend to become caught in the crosshairs of a mass layoff. 

Employers will often offer those older employees who are subject to layoff severance.  A severance agreement is one in which the employer offers severance pay in exchange for the employee’s resignation and usually a release.  

A release is a promise to waive all future lawsuits.  

Your employer will hope to get you to waive claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Whether you should do so is a personal decision.  It is recommended that you consult with an age discrimination lawyer before your sign the severance agreement and the release.

A lawyer can not only explain to you what you’re waiving but can also help negotiate a better settlement package.  At the very least, you should fully understand whether you have a good claim for discrimination before you sign a release waiving your rights.  

Even you have a release and have second thoughts, you should still contact an age discrimination lawyer.  

Older workers have special protections here under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (“OWBPA”).  The OWBPA requires employers to disclose specific information to older employees.

An attorney can review your release and determine if it complies with the OWBPA.  If it does not, there is a good chance that a court would find the waiver invalid.

What’s Next: Contact an Employment Lawyer

You only have so long to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  An employment lawyer can help you out.  Also, most lawyers, including us, operate on a contingency fee.

After the EEOC investigation, you will likely have the option to sue in federal court.  Hiring a lawyer even before the EEOC investigation has benefits.  An age discrimination lawyer can tell you which claims you have.  You may have claims other than your age discrimination claim.

A lawyer can also make sure you comply with any time limits on your claim.  And a lawyer can represent you if there is an EEOC mediation.  

If the case does not settle during the EEOC process and you pursue your case in federal court, you can expect your case to settle sometime before trial.  The great majority of employment cases settle before trial.  

During your federal court case, your employment attorney may:

  • Draft a complaint;
  • Handle discovery;
  • Negotiate a settlement;
  • Argue motions; and
  • Possibly try your case.

Depending on if your case settles or if it goes to trial will impact how much your employer does in your case.  Sometimes an early settlement is good because it means more money in your pocket sooner.  Other times a case may require more time to achieve the best outcome.

Conclusion

The law protects older workers.  Companies often forget that they cannot treat you differently because of age.  

Are you unsatisfied with your job?  Have you been passed over?  Or worse, have you been let go? An age discrimination lawyer can help you with your case.

If you suspect that your age factors into your unhappiness and work or your recent termination, contact us for a free consultation.  We focus on this practice area.   

How are you going to stop ageism in your workplace?

The information presented in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is not legal advice and does not initiate any attorney client relationship.  To receive specific legal advice call us for a free consultation.  We are open for business despite Covid-19 and offer free virtual consultations at this time. 

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