What is Age Discrimination?

Los Angeles Age Discrimination Lawyer

There are many types of discrimination in the workplace but when it comes to more subtle forms of mistreatment, age discrimination can be the most difficult type of workplace discrimination to detect. It doesn’t get the publicity of the racial/social justice and the #MeToo movement, probably because of the subtlety that’s involved and the relative lack of high profile cases, but age discrimination is definitely pernicious, and it’s on the rise, too. 

So what can you do about it if you think you’re a victim of age discrimination in Los Angeles? It’s not an easy question to answer, so let’s look at the definition, the law, and some possible courses of action if you think you’ve been a victim of age discrimination in the workplace. 

 

What is Age Discrimination?

While age discrimination can be tricky to define, there are some specific situations and conditions that are relatively simple to nail down that go beyond the standard “employees over 40 being treated unfavorably due to their age” definition.

So what does that mean, specifically? Let’s do a quick rundown of what sorts of things are applicable. If you’re fired, laid off or forced to quit due to your age, you’ve been discriminated against. 

This also applies  if you’ve been passed over for promotion, been demoted or had your hours cut in a way that seems out of the ordinary. Being paid less or getting fewer benefits due to your age also fits the profile, as does discrimination in hiring situations due to a person’s age. 

Add suspicious performance reviews to the list, and disparaging comments about age can also be suspect. It’s a lot to consider, so let’s look at how the law views all this. 

 

Age Discrimination Law

For better or worse, the way discrimination laws are written can be both helpful and frustrating. At the federal level, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act offers some specifics when it comes to who’s protected, i.e., employees 40 and older in workplaces with over 20 people. 

But that act doesn’t cover individuals in “high-policymaking positions” who are eligible to receive pensions that are worth over $44,000. It also doesn’t cover actors or models of a certain age in certain situations where appearance may be important. 

There are also other positions that may not be covered, including police officers, firefighters, some federal employees and tenured faculty at some universities. People in these jobs may have exceptions in their contracts that leave holes for employers to exploit, so those are things that should be on any age discrimination watch lists. 

 

Los Angeles Age Discrimination Law 

So what about California? The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits employers from using age discrimination, and companies that do can incur liabilities. But these penalties haven’t stopped the phenomenon, which is why it’s important for those who have been discriminated against to get the best possible legal representation. 

According to statistics from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), over 60 percent of all workers over the age of 45 have either been victimized by age discrimination or reported seeing it in action in their workplaces. 

 

Disparate Treatment

Disparate treatment in the workplace is essentially when an employee is treated differently than their coworkers who are similarly situated and the individual is part of a protected class.

A protected class is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a group that is legally protected from employment discrimination based on:

  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Age
  • Color
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Genetic Information

In the case of a disparate treatment lawsuit, the person bringing the suit must prove that they were fired, demoted or somehow treated differently than coworkers in a similar position because they were older, of a particular race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. (part of a protected class)

 

How Can Age Discrimination Be Proven?

Now that you know the basics when it comes to what age discrimination is and how the law defines it, the next question becomes obvious-how can you prove age discrimination if you think or know you’ve been victimized?

Many employers and supervisors who practice age discrimination are well-versed in obfuscation and avoidance tactics, but fortunately there are some specific acts that can be used to prove that you’ve been wronged in a way that will hold up in court. 

These include derogatory comments about age-related appearance issues, lack of technology skills, slowness in picking up new skills, and so on. 

On a more concrete level, older employees being replaced by a younger counterpart with inferior qualifications is a good example of a provable act, as is giving preferential treatment to younger employees or excluding older ones from certain opportunities. 

Every workplace has a slightly unique culture, and if these things are occurring across the board in a given company or organization that can be used as well. 

It’s also important to mention age-related harassment as a part of these kinds of patterns. Some employers implement age discrimination either tacitly or specifically by creating a work environment that’s offensive, abusive or intimidating, and this can enable those who engage in derogatory comments. 

On the legal side, all of these examples generally get funneled into two legal theories-disparate treatment and disparate impact. 

It sounds complicated, but the explanations and conditions for both are relatively straightforward. To prove disparate treatment, employees must be over 40, qualified for their positions, and they must have suffered some kind of adverse employment action. 

These include loss of compensation, a change of employment terms or benefits, or being fired. In addition, these adverse actions must be backed up by facts that point to an inference of discrimination, e.g., offensive comments, being replaced by a younger employee, etc. 

Now let’s talk about disparate impact. This theory is somewhat more amorphous in that it doesn’t require that intentional discrimination occurred as a direct result of an employer’s actions. 

Instead, disparate impact relies on an employer having some kind of work practice that is either inherently biased against older workers or has a negative impact on them. 

Let’s take a simple example. Many employers have screening tests that are either taken during the hiring process or at various times during employment. These screenings may appear to be neutral, but they sometimes provide information that can be used to identify older workers and discriminate against them later one, e.g., when layoffs are taking place. 

To prove disparate impact, it must be possible to show that the work practice affects older employees, and the practice must appear to be neutral but still have a negative impact on older workers. 

 

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Have You Faced Age Discrimination at Work?

If you suspect or now you’re being discriminated against by an employer, there are two specific actions you should take. 

The first is to document everything you believe is discriminatory. This includes saving company policy documents, emails (these can be especially valuable), noticeable or small changes in working conditions, and so on. 

For those discriminatory tactics that are harder to document, start keeping a more informal record. A work diary or journal can be especially helpful, especially if it’s done electronically in a way that incorporates verifiable time stamps. 

On a more informal level, discreet conversations with fellow employees can also be extremely helpful in these situations. They may provide additive evidence that age discrimination is occurring across the board, and having multiple employees available to testify to age discrimination can be invaluable. 

Finally, they can also provide an important network of social support in the work environment, and this can be valuable in other ways as well. 

 

Age Discrimination Attorneys in Los Angeles

The final step in starting an age discrimination action is to contact a law firm, and there are important considerations in doing this as well. A good law firm can help you recover both past and future lost wages and benefits, along with compensation for emotional distress. There’s a chance your legal fees may be free as a result of a settlement, and there’s also the possibility that you can win punitive damages. 

But first, you need to conduct a careful and thorough evaluation process. Look for an age discrimination lawyer with extensive experience in representing individuals in workplace age discrimination cases.

Do the experiences in the cases they’ve handled match yours? Do they specialize in age discrimination cases, or do they handle a broader range of legal situations?

Do you like the way they operate? Are they aggressive enough tactically? What kind of plan do they present you with when they agree to take on your case? Are they aware of important precedents, and are those incorporated into those plans?

These are all important questions, and as you get them answered there are other steps you can take as well. Reviews and referrals are obviously important, and you should check out the firm’s reputation in the legal community as well. 

The Better Business Bureau will have ratings of the firms that typically handle these kinds of cases, and there may be associations within the legal community that can provide information that will help you ascertain which ones offer the best kind of representation in age discrimination cases in your area.

Also, be aware of how you’re being treated as you go through the process of shopping your case. Are the support people professional? Do the lawyers you’re talking to really believe in your case? Are they giving you an honest assessment of your chances, and what options and possibilities are they recommending? 

Finally, make sure you keep records as you go through this process. If you end up interviewing with multiple law firms, sometimes it’s hard to remember the specifics, and a journal or diary can help you keep track. What solutions are being offered, and are they acceptable to you?

If you have a case in Southern California and you need a Los Angeles age discrimination lawyer, contact us for a free consultation.  Our age discrimination attorneys are standing by and ready to discuss your case and help you understand if age discrimination may have occured in your situation.