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The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) Made Simple

Age discriminations in employment Act

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a vital labor law that protects workers and job applicants from ageism in the workplace.

On this page, we analyze the ADEA law, showing how it works and who it protects, as well as delving into everything else that you need to know.

If you are the victim of workplace age discrimination, we are here to help. Bisnar Chase has an accomplished employment law department with an outstanding track record. Contact us now for a free consultation.

Workplace Age Discrimination Resources

What is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is a federal law that prevents people from facing unfair treatment due to age. It applies to workers in their place of employment, as well as job-seekers who are applying for positions.

Anyone aged 40 or over becomes part of a protected class. It is illegal for employers or prospective employers to carry out specific actions against protected classes. For example, an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire, or deny a promotion to a worker aged 40+ based on their age.

As a federal law, the ADEA applies to people across the United States. In some cases, it might be supplemented by additional state legislation, such as California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the ADEA. A federal agency, the EEOC was set up to fight all forms of workplace discrimination.

Origins of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

In the 1960s, several laws were passed to protect workers across the United States.

To start with, the Equal Pay Act became law in 1963 to prevent sex-based wage discrimination. Next, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) created protected classes.

Title VII of the ’64 Act prevented discrimination in employment against people based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

However, the Civil Rights Act needed to go further, as it did not name several other classes that would later become protected.

In 1967, Congress passed a new piece of legislation called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, specifically targeting ageism and adding workers aged 40+ onto the protected class list.

Under the original version of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Department of Labor was in charge of enforcement. This responsibility was later passed to the EEOC.

Who is Protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act?

You are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act once you reach the age of 40. Anyone aged 40 and up carries that protection.

Obviously, 40 is not old. But that is the benchmark set by the law. While age discrimination of any kind should not be allowed, this law deals specifically with the 40+ age group. Those under the age of 40 have no rights under the ADEA.

However, not all businesses are covered by federal laws like the ADEA. It only applies to companies or organizations with at least 15 employees, giving smaller employers more leeway.

It should be noted that many states have laws prohibiting discrimination against a broader range of employees based on age. However, California has no laws that prevent discrimination against younger workers.

What Actions are Prohibited by the ADEA?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects against any form of discrimination against an employee or candidate for a position based on their age if they are aged 40 or above.

What is Age Discrimination?

Ageism is when a person is treated poorly or differently from others due to their age. This is illegal in U.S. workplaces.

The ADEA prevents discrimination. But that is a blanket statement that covers a lot of different scenarios. To be specific, the ADEA prevents age-based discrimination in the following areas:

  • Hiring.
  • Firing.
  • Recruitment of new staff.
  • Performance assessments.
  • Promotions.
  • Layoffs.
  • Pay reviews, salary increases, and other decisions related to compensation.
  • Benefits.
  • Workplace expectations and assignments.
  • Training.
  • Other workplace behavior.

Examples of Ageism in the Workplace

The areas listed above are all covered by ageism laws under the ADEA. But what specific actions does it prevent?

Below, we explore some examples of age-based discrimination in the workplace. Employers might face legal issues when:

  • Showing a pattern of only hiring younger employees and refusing to interview older candidates.
  • Firing an employee due to their age.
  • Favoring younger employees for promotions or compensation bumps when employees aged 40+ have better qualifications or job performance.
  • Choosing only older employees for layoffs.
  • Consistently picking younger employees for high-profile, desirable, or client-facing tasks.

It is not against the law for an employer to hire a younger worker that they believe is the right candidate for the job. There is also nothing wrong with rewarding workers aged under 40 with promotions and pay increases that they have earned.

But when employers demonstrate instances or patterns of discrimination due to a person’s age, they can find themselves in legal trouble.

When Is It NOT Considered Age Discrimination?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not just provide guidance on violations of the law. It also maps out the scenarios that do not qualify as ageism.

There is a tendency to assume that any negative action against an older employee is ageism. But that is not true. Below, we provide a snapshot of exceptions.

  • It is not unlawful for a company to take age-related action when age is a bona fide qualification necessary for a business to operate normally.
  • Businesses are allowed to follow a bona fide seniority system, even if it clashes with other elements of the law.
  • A company can always engage in disciplinary measures or fire an employee if there is good cause. No one has a right to keep their job if they are negligent or incompetent, regardless of age.

These are just some of the caveats included in the ADEA wording. If you are unsure if you have a case, contact us at Bisnar Chase to find out.

Why is the ADEA Important?

In an ideal world, employers would not have to be told to give everyone a fair chance of employment and career advancement. But that is not the case. As such, the ADEA is a vital piece of legislation that plays a huge role in employment across the United States.

Many employers prefer the idea of younger workers. This is mainly to do with perception. They might expect younger workers to be more energetic, enthusiastic, and adaptable, more comfortable learning new processes and using up-to-date technology, and to present a better company image to clients. Younger workers might also be cheaper than more experienced or accomplished employees.

But it is unfair to generalize. In most cases, these opinions are completely wide of the mark. These attributes do not depend on an employee’s age. They come from the worker’s skill and attitude.

All people should be able to work according to their abilities, not their age. The ADEA law ensures that everyone gets the same workplace opportunities.

Did You Know…?

Not all countries have anti-discrimination laws. For example, employers in China prefer to hire people aged under 35. This is referred to as the ‘Curse of 35’ by Chinese workers.

Many employers believe that younger graduates will work at cheaper salaries and be more willing to work overtime. Even the Chinese government caps its hiring age at 35.

This trend leaves a huge number of able workers in a dead zone of employment, struggling to find a job in their prime years. It demonstrates exactly why anti-discrimination laws like the ADEA are so important in the U.S.

Workplace Ageism FAQs

The following are just some of the most frequently asked questions about age discrimination at work that we encounter. If you have questions that are not answered on this page, please get in touch.

Yes, an employer is allowed to ask your age. However, they can only ask about your age for legal purposes. They are not allowed to discriminate or treat you negatively based on age.

You should report an instance of discrimination to the EEOC within 180 days (six months) of the incident. When a similar state law exists, as in California, the deadline extends to 300 days (ten months). It is always best to report the incident to the EEOC and contact an attorney as soon as possible.

You can only file a lawsuit under the ADEA against businesses with at least 15 employees. However, you can file claims against businesses with 5+ employees through California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

No, an employer cannot act against you for reporting discrimination or acting as a witness for a colleague who has experienced discrimination. It is illegal for the company to treat you differently or harass you for speaking up.

Additional California Laws Against Workplace Age Discrimination

The ADEA is a federal law enforced by a central government agency that applies to employment situations across the United States. But California also has its own laws that only apply to age discrimination instances within the state.

California’s state law covering workplace ageism is called the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

FEHA has a much broader scope than the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. It was written to cover the ground of several federal laws under one umbrella.

As such, it prevents discrimination against protected classes (such as older workers). But it also covers maternity leave, job-protected leave, workplace harassment, and more.

On this page, we focus specifically on the area of FEHA covering age discrimination in the workplace. When it comes to workplace ageism, the FEHA rules are almost identical to those given in the ADEA. It still applies to employees aged 40 and up.

However, the California law does give workers a little more protection. It can be used to file a claim against any business with five or more employees rather than requiring the organization to have at least 15 employees to be legally liable.

You do not need to know the fine-print differences between the two laws. Trust your employment attorney to use the law that best suits your case.

Proving an Ageism Case

Proving age discrimination in the workplace can be a challenging task. But working with a skilled employment law firm with a strong track record in these cases will greatly improve your chances of success.

Here, we look at the criteria required to qualify for a discrimination claim and the evidence we need to prove it.

First, you must fulfill the following criteria to be eligible to file a claim.

  • We must show that you are in the protected age class of 40+.
  • It is important to show that your job performance was satisfactory and that any mistreatment was due to discrimination rather than legitimate work-based concerns.
  • We need to prove that adverse actions were taken against you.
  • Our team must also show that a younger employee in a similar situation was treated more favorably than you.

Age Discrimination Evidence

Proving workplace behavior can be challenging. But you can boost your case by working with your legal team to assemble relevant evidence. This can include:

  • Past reviews or reports demonstrating your record of good job performance.
  • Personal accounts of any mistreatment. It is always best to document your thoughts and feelings as soon as possible after a workplace incident occurs.
  • Witness accounts from your colleagues, clients, or anyone else who witnessed the discriminatory behavior.
  • Any physical evidence, such as documentation that supports your claim.

If you are unsure if you have a case, or if you will be able to prove it, do not worry. Contact Bisnar Chase for a free consultation and receive first-rate advice and guidance from our team.

Recruiters and Job Agencies Can Also Violate the ADEA

When most people think of ADEA violations, they think of employers mistreating or refusing to hire older people. But it is not just employers that need to be aware of age discrimination laws surrounding the workplace.

It is illegal for an employment agency or recruitment firm to refuse to refer an older candidate to a company looking to fill a position.

The law applies to all parties involved in the referral, hiring, and employment process.

Examples of Employment Ageism Legal Cases

Below are some examples of major age discrimination cases from recent years. They include instances in which the plaintiffs were successful and awarded massive monetary compensation. We also cover other claims that were unsuccessful but set precedents for future cases.

TJ Simers vs. The Los Angeles Times

Award-winning Times columnist TJ Simers filed an age discrimination lawsuit in 2013. His columns were reduced after he suffered health issues, and he was then demoted to a reporter and eventually left the publication. A jury awarded Simers $7.1 million in 2015. The award was increased to over $15 million after an appeal before being reduced again after a judge’s ruling.

FAA Settles $44 Million Case with Flight Staff

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agreed to pay a $44 million settlement to more than 600 former employees. The lawsuit was filed after the FAA executed privatization plans, removing 2,000 flight service specialists and outsourcing the positions to an outside company. The former employees alleged that they lost their jobs due to their ages. The FAA did not admit wrongdoing but paid out the massive settlement in compensation for lost pensions.

Unsuccessful Lawsuits

  • Fields vs. Chicago Board of Education: A teacher filed a lawsuit after retiring, claiming she was put on performance review and forced out. But the school district proved that any discipline resulted from poor job performance.
  • Norman vs. Call-a-Nurse LLC: A company director alleged she was fired because of her age, citing comments made to her as proof. Offensive and derogatory comments can substantiate an age discrimination claim. However, in this case, the court ruled that mild teasing or offhand comments did not constitute discrimination.

Compensation for Victims of Age Discrimination

When you are the victim of ageism at work, the best step you can take is to contact an experienced labor law attorney to assist with your case. But what is the likely outcome?

You are fighting for a few things here. If your employment was terminated due to age discrimination, you could get your job back through a legal claim. You could also win financial compensation for your experience and suffering. And last but not least, you could receive justice through an acknowledgment that you were wronged.

Most cases proceed in one of two ways; the offending business agrees to an out-of-court settlement, or your lawyer will pursue a lawsuit, and the case could be resolved through a trial.

Financial Compensation

How much is your case likely to be worth in terms of a monetary award? All employment claims are different. It depends on the circumstances of your case, the level of wrongdoing, and the impact it has had on you.

Your compensation could include:

  • Lost wages and back pay.
  • The value of lost benefits.
  • Non-monetary relief (such as job reinstatement).
  • Loss of future income if you cannot be reinstated.
  • Economic damages, including any out-of-pocket costs incurred due to the discrimination.
  • Your legal expenses and fees.
  • Compensation for emotional toil or suffering.
  • Punitive damages from the company as punishment for wrongdoing.

When you sue an employer or former employer for damages, you are most likely to receive back pay covering lost wages, benefits, and any other losses incurred due to the discriminatory actions.

The ADEA can be restrictive. It may not allow you to claim compensation for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and emotional distress. The federal law might also limit your ability to obtain punitive damages.

However, filing a claim through California state laws (such as FEHA) might offer the chance to recover more money. Trust the advice of your attorney to ensure you receive full justice.

Limits to Age Discrimination Recoveries

When you file a claim over an Age Discrimination in Employment Act violation, there are caps on the amount of money you can receive. Those caps depend on the size of the company you work for.

  • 15-100 employees: $50,000
  • 101-200 employees: $100,000
  • 201-500 employees: $200,000
  • 500+ employees: $300,000

However, if a claim is filed through California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, there are no limits on the compensation you can recover.

At Bisnar Chase, we have a reputation for maximizing the value of your claim. Contact us now for a free consultation.

Enforcement by the EEOC

Enforcement of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is the responsibility of a government agency called the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

This agency investigates workplace discrimination complaints involving age, gender, religion, race, color, and other protected classes.

The EEOC was launched in 1965 with a focus on preventing and punishing wrongdoing in American workplaces.

When a case is reported to the EEOC, the agency will start an investigation. If evidence is uncovered showing ADEA violations, the EEOC has the power to end discriminatory practices. It can put a business on probation, introduce new internal rules, and analyze its actions, among other controls.

The EEOC may also look to secure a settlement between the victim and the company and has the power to file lawsuits against offenders.

However, the EEOC usually only takes on a lawsuit in high-profile cases involving large companies. Most claims will be handled by employment attorneys contacted by the complainant separately from the EEOC investigation process.

Reporting an Age Discrimination Case to the EEOC

Contacting an age discrimination employment attorney and filing a lawsuit is the best way to recover compensation for any actions taken against you in the workplace. But you should also report your case to the EEOC as a first step.

The result of an EEOC investigation can boost your legal claim against an employer. But no matter the result, you can still take separate legal action.

You can request a letter from the EEOC confirming your right to sue. This letter will often put a time constraint on your ability to file a claim, so you should contact a labor lawyer at Bisnar Chase as soon as possible to ensure we can meet the deadline.

Age Discrimination Statistics

Ageism cases are tough to win. But you must speak up if you have suffered due to age discrimination. The statistics show that it is a severe problem in many United States workplaces.

  • Nearly 13,000 age discrimination cases were filed across the U.S. in 2021. That is consistent with the annual average.
  • Of the reports handled by the EEOC, 21.1% are ageism related.
  • Studies show that only 50% of people who observe workplace ageism file reports. The problem is much bigger than the numbers suggest.
  • The percentage of successful claims is relatively low. In 2020, about 6% of ageism claims were settled successfully. However, those settlements produced compensation of more than $76 million for plaintiffs.
  • About one in five workers aged 40+ and one in four workers aged 60+ have reported experiencing discrimination due to their age.

The graph below shows the distribution of workers by age. The data, sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that 22.7% of workers are aged 25-34, after which there is a gradual decline of employment numbers through the older age groups.

A graph showing the distribution of U.S. workforces based on age.

Age Group/Percentage of Nationwide Workforce

  • 16-24: 12.6%
  • 25-34: 22.7%
  • 35-44: 21.1%
  • 45-54: 20%
  • 55-64: 17%
  • 65+: 6.6%

Top-Rated Employment Lawyers

It stands to reason that you are more likely to be successful in your claim if you work with a law firm that has handled and won cases like yours. In working with Bisnar Chase, you will be backed by a law firm with longevity and an outstanding track record.

Our firm has a dedicated employment law department that focuses on workplace cases. These include discrimination cases, wrongful termination claims, wage and hour violations, and much more.

To us, cases are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. We care about our clients and do everything possible to secure the best outcome for them.

  • Bisnar Chase has a 99% success rate.
  • We have been in business for over 45 years and have helped thousands of clients.
  • Our team has a dedicated employment department that has handled age discrimination cases successfully.
  • We have recovered more than $800 million for our clients.
  • Clients get a free consultation and benefit from our ‘no win, no fee’ policy. You pay nothing unless we win for you.
  • Throughout your case, we stay in regular contact. You will always know what is going on with your claim, and you can contact our team anytime. 
  • We have offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego, handling employment claims across California.

Our reviews and awards support our reputation as a top-rated employment law firm in California. Our team is passionate and dedicated. We work tirelessly to ensure you get the justice you deserve.

If you have a workplace age discrimination case, contact an outstanding California employment lawyer at Bisnar Chase today. Call (800) 561-4887, use our website live chat feature to send us your details, or send us an email. We look forward to hearing from you.

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