[author: Michele Bowman]
An engineer hired by the city of Cohasset outside Boston is stirring up an already-shaken political beehive with an age discrimination suit. Mark Brennan, 64 years old, lost his job to a much younger man and is fighting to return to work by filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
When a new town manager cleaned house after being hired in 2011, he rescinded the contract Brennan had signed with the former town manager. Brennan claims he was treated poorly by the new manger and then fired in March 2012. He reapplied for his job, but in September it was given to a 39-year-old at a lower salary.
40 – It’s the New 65
Age discrimination covers a broad category of workers, and the age at which you can claim it is much younger than you might think.
Defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as simply “treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his [or her] age,” age discrimination laws apply to any private employer with 20 or more employees, as well as to government and even labor union employers.
The EEOC provides a few other basic facts about age discrimination:
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older.
Some states have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination.
It is not illegal for an employer or other covered entity to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both workers are age 40 or older.
Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are both over 40.
Age discrimination appears to be on the rise: The EEOC reports having received more complaints about it almost every year since 1997.
Can Be Difficult to Prove
But it can be difficult to prove. “Simply being older and being mistreated is usually not enough proof of discrimination,” says Bill Bransford, a lawyer with Shaw, Bransford and Roth, P.C. in Washington, D.C., in a recent blog post.
“To be successful, it helps to have a very significant age and qualification difference between the person claiming discrimination and the replacement. It also helps to be able to point to age-related comments referring to youth and vigor,” Bransford says.
Retirement Age? Most Still Protected
What about retirement? Can employees who have passed the age for retirement sue for age discrimination if they’re fired and replaced with younger workers? That depends.
“Some employees are offended and feel discrimination based on age when comments are made about the employee’s retirement plans,” notes Bransford. “But such inquiries from employers standing alone are not sufficient evidence of age discrimination.”
“Nonetheless, the law is clear that an employer cannot discriminate based on age and cannot require you to leave your job just because you have lived a long time,” he says. “The exception is for air traffic controllers, law enforcement and firefighters. The courts have upheld the mandatory retirement laws as statutory exceptions to the age discrimination prohibition.”
If you are concerned about your rights under the ADEA, contact a discrimination lawyer on Lawyers.com.