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According to federal law, it is illegal to discriminate against employees 40 years of age or older. Many states have additional antidiscrimination laws based on age. Of course, the fact that something is illegal does not mean it never happens. If you've been the victim of age discrimination and want to sue your employer, understanding the process first helps.
Age Discrimination Act
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law banning workplace discrimination against employees 40 years of age or older. This means that, under ADEA, employers may not treat workers under 40 more favorably than they do workers over the age of 40. It also requires employers treat employees over the age of 40 equally. In other words, the employer cannot favor a 45-year-old employee over a 55-year-old employee.
ADEA protection includes the hiring process, the employment relationship, and termination. Additionally, protections extend to the benefits employers offer, requiring equality in offerings such as health insurance and retirement plans. Some state laws prohibiting age discrimination are more stringent than ADEA. These greater protections provide plaintiffs bringing an age discrimination suit to claim a broader range of damages.
How to File a Lawsuit for Age Discrimination
As in many employment discrimination claims, age discrimination suits include an administrative process which must be followed before filing a lawsuit. These steps include filing an administrative complaint followed by filing a complaint in court. After this, you'll likely participate in one or more mediation sessions. Finally, if you and your employer are unable to settle, you go to trial.
Filing an Age Discrimination Administrative Complaint
You file your administrative complaint with the group responsible for enforcing federal antidiscrimination laws: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the event your state has its own agency enforcing antidiscrimination laws, you may have to file your administrative complaint there as well.
The EEOC investigates your complaint. This investigation typically includes reviewing evidence presented and interviewing your employer and any witnesses. Age discrimination cases allow claimants to sue anytime after 60 days from the date you filed. Other discrimination claims give the EEOC 90 days to investigate your case and then issue a right-to-sue notice. If you hire an employment lawyer, he or she keeps track of these dates.
Filing an Age Discrimination Claim in Court
Sixty days after filing your administrative complaint, you can file a complaint in court, explaining the basis of your suit and damages you seek. Once you file, your lawyer and your employer's lawyer conduct the discovery phase. This includes gathering witness statements, requesting documents, and gathering other information in the event the case goes to trial.
During discovery, the defense witness takes your deposition. As in court testimony, this is done under oath, with your answers recorded. Your attorney, if you hire one, attends the deposition with you to ensure the defense questions are appropriate. Your attorney performs similar depositions of your employer, witnesses, and fellow employees.
Mediation for Age Discrimination
Before going to trial, both parties typically meet with a third-party mediator in an attempt to settle. Mediation may be court-ordered or voluntarily agreed upon by both parties. Attorneys for both parties participate in mediation. Your attorney will explain the strengths and weaknesses of any settlement offers to guide you through the process.
In mediation, both sides attempt to resolve the matter through compromise rather than going to court. This usually includes terms such as a settlement payment, though each case is different. If these efforts are not successful, the case goes to trial.
Going to Trial for an Age Discrimination Case
Upon completing the discovery stage, your lawyer prepares you to testify in court. Each side presents the evidence they gathered during discovery and you must be present in court each day. Your attorney will explain the trial process before your trial begins.
How Much Does an Age Discrimination Lawsuit Cost?
The process of a lawsuit is costly, meaning that lawsuits are costly. Even if your attorney agrees to take your case on contingency, this only covers the attorney's fee. Costs are different. You are still responsible for costs such as expert witness testimony, which typically costs thousands of dollars per day. Ask your attorney for a full estimate of costs in your case.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you are the victim of age discrimination at work, schedule a free consultation with an employment attorney. He or she advises you on the merits of your complaint, the likelihood of success, and helps you decide the best course of action to take.