Age discrimination in general occurs when you treat someone differently because of their age — in a way that is not beneficial to the person. Or in some way denying them their rights based solely on age. Age discrimination in employment is also protected against by law. But, even if we know it’s there, it’s often hard to prove.
The real trick comes in relation to the word “rights.” Especially when we’re talking about age-related employment discrimination. While age is NOT covered as a protected class by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin, it is covered by law. In this case, by the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
But without making this a mini-course in law, there are burdens of proof before courts will find against businesses. And more and more (especially after June 2009 Supreme Court decision written by Clarence Thomas) we see the burden of proof strongly shifted to the plaintiff.
In short … you can claim it but you gotta prove it. There have indeed been plaintiffs who successfully brought suit (age discrimination in employment is alive and well. But there have also been judges who sided with the employer saying other factors were at play.
If you want to learn more about filing a complaint:
If you’d like to read more about age at work, I found this great article in Newsweek suggesting a realistic approach no matter what the right or wrong of it is:
Quoting from the article:
As if finding and holding on to a job wasn’t hard enough. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there’s been a 17 percent jump in the number of age-discrimination complaints filed since the recession began in 2007. Federal law is supposed to protect workers 40 and older, but proving you’ve been denied a job or laid off to make way for younger and cheaper workers isn’t easy. And the byproduct of a 2009 Supreme Court decision has substantially increased the burden of proof required to win an age-discrimination case.”
A bit more from the article – good advice for us all:
Older workers, regardless of what industry you are in … need to be lifelong learners. Don’t cruise, and say, “I have a job and I’ll just cruise along.” Everyone needs to make sure that they’re staying abreast of new developments in their field. You need to continue to dress currently and maintain your fitness level. You don’t want to play into the stereotype that you’re not adaptable, no matter what industry you’re in.
NOTE: If you want to suggest changes to this or any other definition in our career dictionary, please feel free to add your suggestions in a comment.
[Article updated in 2020]