The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports the number of age discrimination claims remains high. The EEOC logged 18,376 such cases during its 2017 fiscal year.
What’s more, the EEOC says that monetary benefits paid out for this type of claim reached a staggering total of $90.1 million in 2016. Those numbers should make employers sit up and take notice.
The primary federal law in this area is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).
Under the ADEA, an employer with 20 or more employees (including government units) generally cannot discriminate based on age against individuals who are age 40 or over. It is also illegal to retaliate against an individual for opposing discriminatory employment practices based on age or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying or participating in an investigation under the ADEA.
Note that this law covers job applicants as well as employees.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing the ADEA. After an employee has filed an age discrimination complaint with the agency, the employer must file a response and provide supporting documents. Once this is done, the EEOC may conduct an investigation of the claim, which may include interviewing witnesses, taking statements under oath and subpoenaing records.
Depending on the information revealed in the investigation, the EEOC may file a lawsuit against the employer. Frequently, it is in the employer’s best interests to agree to a settlement.
Here are summaries of what happened in three separate cases. In each case, the EEOC filed suit after attempting to reach a settlement through its conciliation process.
In 2016, a Kentucky miscellaneous equipment rental company paid $37,000 to settle an age discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC, the agency announced.
According to EEOC’s suit (filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, London Division), the company terminated a 52-year-old because of his age. The company’s owner sought “younger and peppier” employees and wanted to bring “young blood” into the company, the agency alleged.
The consent decree settling the suit provided the employee with back pay and provided injunctive relief including anti-discrimination training, reporting of discrimination claims, notice posting and a prohibition against any future discrimination or retaliation.
A Pennsylvania fast food chicken restaurant paid $36,000 and provided equitable relief to settle a federal age discrimination lawsuit in 2016, the EEOC announced.
According to the suit, the restaurant engaged in age discrimination when it refused to hire two military veterans, ages 54 and 58, and another 40-year-old applicant. Each filled out an application that required them to reveal their dates of birth. In addition, the EEOC alleged that during the applicants’ interviews, the general manager asked them how old they were and told them they were “too old” to work for the restaurant.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
In addition to the $36,000 in monetary relief, which represents full back pay with liquidated damages to the applicants, the consent decree settling the suit enjoins the restaurant from engaging in age discrimination or retaliation in the future. The restaurant has revised its job application to no longer require ages or dates of birth. It also posted a notice about the settlement, implemented and disseminated an anti-discrimination policy and provided training on federal anti-discrimination laws to managers and employees who receive job applications.
An Indiana hand tool manufacturer agreed to pay $100,000 and furnish other relief to resolve an age discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC, the agency announced.
According to the suit, the company was hiring for its senior vice president of sales position. A man was from a pool of applicants to participate in an initial e-mail interview. In addition to questions about his experience and willingness to relocate, the manufacturer asked if the applicant was within its ideal age range of 45 to 52. When the company learned the he was older than its ideal age range, it refused to hire him.
The EEOC filed suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.
In addition to providing monetary relief, the 2016 consent decree resolving the suit obligated the company to stop collecting age information about applicants before making a job offer, train its hiring personnel, and post a notice from its president about its commitment to federal nondiscrimination laws, as well as engage in periodic compliance reporting.
These cases point out the potential severity of the situation for employers. Consult with your attorney about your situation and take precautions to avoid any potential legal problems.
Steps to Take
What can you do to protect your company against employee lawsuits based on age discrimination? Follow these “common sense” steps.
- Provide training sessions for various jobs.
- Establish a comprehensive age discrimination policy.
- Post the policy on bulletin boards or feature in company publications.
- Emphasize skills and performance in employee reviews.
- Avoid age restrictions for promotions or training.
- Don’t ask age-related questions during job interviews.
- Develop fair guidelines for evaluating job candidates.
- Do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.