Age discrimination in the workplace and other aspects of employment is prohibited by a Federal age discrimination law, called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 or ADEA for short.
Employers bound by the law cannot rightfully discriminate against employees and job candidates in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion and benefits.
Under the Federal age discrimination law, employers who have 20 or more employees may not discriminate on the basis of age against employees and job applicants who are 40 years old or more. Employment agencies, labor unions and local, state, and Federal government offices are also bound by the law.
The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) is a Federal age discrimination law that amended the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, to prohibit employers from denying employee benefits to older workers based on age. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces both Acts.
States and municipalities may enact age discrimination laws that have equivalent or better protections than the ADEA. (For example, New York State has enacted a law that protects workers from age discrimination starting at age 18.) Such laws are enforced by state and local EEOC equivalents. Depending on the circumstances, employees are protected by whichever law at the Federal, state or local level has the most protection.
If you think that your employer is guilty of age discrimination against you under the ADEA, then you may file a discrimination charge with the EEOC. Filing an age discrimination charge will cause the EEOC to act on your behalf or at least preserve your right to seek relief through a private lawsuit.
In fact, you (or your lawyer or other representative) must file a charge with the EEOC, to preserve your right to file an age discrimination lawsuit under the ADEA in Federal court.
To properly handle its caseload, the EEOC aggressively pursues only the most compelling among the thousands of discrimination charges it receives annually. If the EEOC doesn't take your case to court, then you may request a "right-to-sue" letter that entitles you to file an age discrimination lawsuit in Federal court.
Consequently, it might be a good idea to consult an age discrimination lawyer before filing a charge with the EEOC. A lawyer will help you to properly collect evidence and file a more compelling charge in legalese, to increase your chances that the EEOC will act on your behalf.
An age discrimination lawyer will also advise you if might be a better idea to instead file a charge with an EEOC state or municipal equivalent, or a lawsuit in a state or municipal court instead of Federal court. (Discrimination lawsuits in state and municipal courts are typically easier to win, and might grant better awards.) Lawyers often take winnable age discrimination cases on contingency.
Whether you file an age discrimination charge or first consult a lawyer, don't delay too long. A 180-day statute of limitations applies for starting legal action under the ADEA, beginning on the date that your alleged age discrimination first occurred.
However, if a state age discrimination law comes into play and a state agency or other authority enforces that law, then you'll have up to 300 days to file your charge. The problem is, you may not know whether or not a state law applies until after you file your charge or consult a lawyer; so, it's a good idea to assume that you'll have only 180 days until you've learned otherwise.
Under the ADEA, you must wait for 60 days after filing an age discrimination charge before you may file a private lawsuit in court — another reason not to delay in consulting a lawyer or filing a charge.
Your employer cannot rightfully retaliate against you for exercising your rights under the ADEA, such as filing a charge with the EEOC, consulting a lawyer, filing an age discrimination lawsuit in court or participating in related proceedings. Your employer also cannot rightfully retaliate against witnesses, such as coworkers, who testify on your behalf during related proceedings.
For more information, read Age Discrimination at the Web site of the EEOC. It includes a link to information about filing a charge of discrimination with either the EEOC or a state equivalent. (The EEOC refers to its state equivalents as fair employment practices agencies or FEPAs.)
To research a state or municipal age discrimination law, start in State Labor Law Research or State Labor Laws, or contact the state equivalent of the EEOC. Alternately or additionally, consult an age discrimination lawyer.