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An Age-Discrimination Overview

October 22, 1998
Related Topics: Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Featured Article
Discriminating on the basis of age is illegal under the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Under the law, there are some special limitations on who can sue.

People under forty years old are not protected by age discrimination laws. If an employer refuses to hire somebody because he or she is thirty-nine, and therefore "too young", that is not illegal. But if it because he or she is forty and "too old", that is illegal.

Age discrimination has some special aspects that make it different from other types of employment discrimination. A few of these are discussed below.

Golden Handshakes
Sometimes when employers are downsizing, they lay people off by offering "golden handshakes", which are special packages to employees who agree to take early retirement. This is not age discrimination. However, if it is being done for the purpose of getting rid of older workers just because of their age, and if it can be shown that there is a real discriminatory motive, that is illegal.

Replacing Older Workers
It is illegal to replace a person over 40 with a person under 40, if age is the reason. It is also illegal to replace a person over forty with a younger person who is also forty.

Replacing Higher Earners
It is not illegal to replace people who are making high wages with people who will make less because they have less seniority. However, this usually means replacing older workers with younger ones. If the wage considerations are not the real motivator, and the employer is actually trying to replace older workers with younger ones, that is illegal. Here, the employee must prove that it is the age, not the wages, which is motivating the employer to fire the older workers.

Contact your attorney for more information about the law in your state.

Source: David H. Greenberg, Los Angeles, September 25, 1998.

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