Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The ADEA is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination based on age.  The ADEA protects employees who are 40 years of age or older.  (State or local laws may protect younger employees.)  Under the ADEA, it is not unlawful for an employer to favor older workers; the statute only makes it unlawful to discriminate against older workers.  The statute also bars retaliation against employees for asserting their rights under the statute.

The ADEA applies to employers throughout the country with at least 20 employees, including federal, state, and local governments.

Under the ADEA, it is unlawful for a covered employer “to fail or 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.”  29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1).  The law prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, and benefits. 

If an employee proves age discrimination in violation of the ADEA, the remedies available under the statute include hiring, reinstatement, promotion, back pay, front pay, liquidated damages, attorney’s fees, and costs.  Compensatory damages and punitive damages are not available under the ADEA.

To be protected by the ADEA, an employee first must file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the alleged discrimination.  Under certain circumstances, this time limit may be extended to 300 days.  Note:  federal employees must file a charge of discrimination with their agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the alleged discrimination.

After an employee files a charge of discrimination, the EEOC will investigate the charge.  As part of the investigation, the employer will be notified of the charge and asked to submit a response to the employee’s allegations (often referred to as a “position statement”).  The EEOC may attempt to resolve the matter through mediation and settlement.

If the matter does not settle, at the end of the investigation, the EEOC may issue a finding of “probable cause” or “no probable cause” regarding the employee’s claims, although usually the EEOC does not take a position.  The EEOC process usually takes several months.  The EEOC then will issue the employee a “right to sue” letter that authorizes the employee to file a lawsuit in court, although it is possible to obtain the “right to sue” letter sooner.  The employee’s lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of receipt of the letter.  Alternately, the employee may file suit under the ADEA after 60 days of filing with the EEOC.

Because the rules and procedures under the ADEA are complicated, an employee should discuss his or her complaints of age discrimination promptly with a qualified employment lawyer.

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