Age Discrimination

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The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals over the age of 40 from being discriminated against in the workplace as a result of their age.  This law is administered by the EEOC, which helps to protect individuals over the age of 40 who either apply for a position or are already employed.  In accordance with ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment – including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments and training (eeoc.gov).

An employer does have a strictly enforced loophole around the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  If an employer can demonstrate that the age of the applicant is a bona fide occupational qualification for the position in question, the employer does not have to follow the ADEA.  For example, a school district may argue that running and jumping is a bona fide occupational qualification for a gym teacher.  The school district in question could state the gym teacher must be able to run a mile in 10 minutes or less and have a vertical jump of at least two feet.

Age discrimination can also affect the quality of teacher a school district hires for their school.  With shrinking budgets and mandates from the legislature to reduce class size, many school districts have found ways to cope.  Many times school districts will hire a less qualified candidate to save money.  For example, a first or second year teacher makes considerably less money than a teacher with 20 years of experience with a Masters degree.

Age discrimination only applies to an organization with 20 or more employees, employment agencies, labor organizations and the federal government.  For an employee to bring about an age discrimination case:

1) Individual is within the protected age group – over 40 years of age.

2) Individual is doing satisfactory work.

3) Individual was discharged even though the quality of work was adequate.

In addition, employers must be aware that turning away a candidate well overqualified for a position may violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  For instance, a scientist from NASA may have a hard time becoming a chemistry teacher in a public school setting.  If the school district revokes his application for the teaching position because he/she is overqualified for the position, legal action may be warranted.  In fact, the court system has already ruled on many occasions that organizations should take special care in revoking older applicants who are overqualified for a position because it may simply be masking age discrimination. 

One example of an age discrimination lawsuit resulted from Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s behavior in hiring Management Trainee’s in the Austin, Texas area.  The San Antonio office of the EEOC alleged in their lawsuit that Enterprise Rent-A-Car failed to hire one Management Trainee over the age of 40 in the Austin area.  During 1998, approximately 1,100 job applications were received by Enterprise Rent-A-Car in the Austin area to fill Management Trainee positions.  There were a large number of openings since each branch in the Austin area hires on average one or more Management Trainee’s every year.  Undoubtedly, Enterprise Rent-A-Car helped bring this lawsuit upon themselves since of the 110 candidates hired for Management Trainee positions, there was not one over the age of 40.  The case was resolved in the judicial system and Enterprise Rent-A-Car was ordered to pay $160,000 in monetary relief.

For more information regarding age discrimination, please visit www.eeoc.gov

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