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Employment law and older workers

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act was passed in 1967 and was designed to protect older workers in California and around the country from adverse actions by employers based on their age. However, the Supreme Court has steadily cut back on the law’s scope since it was passed. In 2009, it ruled that to prove age discrimination, a plaintiff would have to demonstrate that age was the main reason for an adverse action as opposed to just one factor.

A piece of legislation called the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act has been brought up in Congress, but it has never come for a vote. If passed it would reverse the 2009 ruling. One reason why employers may avoid legal action related to possible age discrimination is that age is not considered a protected attribute. Unlike race, sex or gender, it is not illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to take action against an employee based on his or her age.

This creates a high burden of proof that may discourage workers from taking action. Additionally, age discrimination may not be seen as a serious social issue like discrimination based on sex or gender. It is generally not seen as offensive to talk about a person’s age or joke about someone leaving to spend more time with the grandchildren or play golf.

However, employment discrimination based upon age can be equally pernicious and damaging to the victim. The ADEA applies to certain applicants and employees who are at or over the age of 40. Those who are covered by the act and who believe that they have been unjustly treated, whether during the interview process or while employed, may want to meet with an attorney to see what rights they may have.