If you are familiar with federal discrimination law, then you likely know that age discrimination, like sex discrimination, race discrimination, disability discrimination, religious discrimination, and sexual orientation discrimination (among others) is prohibited. If an employer has fired you, demoted you, refused to hire you, or taken other adverse employment actions against you because you are older then, with the aid of a knowledgeable New York age discrimination lawyer, you can sue and win in court.
What you may not know, however, is that it is harder to win a federal age discrimination case than it is to win other types of federal employment discrimination cases. A bill that just passed the House of Representatives would change that and make the barrier against establishing a case of federal age discrimination the same as that for all other forms of federal workplace discrimination.
Age discrimination has been a violation of federal law since 1967 when Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). At that time, the degree of protection older workers received under the federal law was equal to the protection other groups (such as racial minorities and religious groups) received.
It stayed that way for four decades. Then in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling, Gross v. FBL Financial, that said that, in federal age discrimination cases, the discriminated worker must prove that he would not have suffered discrimination “but for” his age. This made federal age discrimination cases harder to win as compared to other federal employment discrimination cases, where a worker is required only to prove either that she would not have suffered discrimination but for her protected-group status or that her protected-group status was one of several “mixed motives” that triggered the discrimination.
Putting age discrimination protections back on a level with other forms of discrimination
The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act of 2021 seeks to undo the changes created by the Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in the Gross case. That would give older workers harmed by ageism on the job all the same tools as other discriminated workers. The bill was introduced by two representatives (one Democrat and one Republican,) with 13 original co-sponsors, which included Rep. John Katko, whose district includes the Syracuse area. Antonio Delgado, a representative from Hudson Valley who also supported the bill, stated that he “was proud to join colleagues from both sides of the aisle to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which amends the law to ensure older workers have the workplace protections they deserve.”
Delgado highlighted “surveys that have found 60% of older Americans experiencing some form of age discrimination while on the job,” according to Spectrum News. Other sources say that the rate of age discrimination in workplaces is even higher. AARP data published in May 2021 pegged the number at 78%.
Here locally, workers are already the beneficiaries of stronger legal protections. The federal ADEA protects workers over age 40 from age discrimination on the job. New York State and New York City law bans age discrimination, even if you, as the target of that age discrimination, are under the age of 40. In other words, New York employers are, except in special (and rare) circumstances, not allowed to hire, fire, promote, demote or take other employment actions based on the worker’s age, generally regardless of what that age is.
Last year, local workers got even more protection from the law. As of January 2020, New York City law expanded to say that its protections prohibiting age discrimination in the workplace applied to independent contractors as well as employees.
Age discrimination at work can take many forms. Perhaps it is a “reduction in force” (layoffs) that disproportionately eliminate older workers. Perhaps it is a company where older workers are consistently passed over for promotions in favor of younger, less qualified colleagues. Maybe it is a supervisor who talks about needing a more vibrant and “youthful” team. Any of these can potentially be examples of illegal discrimination.
When you work a job or apply for a position, you want to be judged on your merits, not on your race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or age. If you’ve experienced a work situation where you were judged on your birth certificate instead of your professional accomplishments, you may have a viable case in court. Reach out to the diligent age discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates, who have been helping workers like you for many years. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and find out more about what we can do to help you to get the fair and just outcome you deserve.