When an employee is treated less favorably because of his/her age, it is termed age discrimination.

It’s no secret. Employers prefer younger employees over “older” ones. The problem is that with retirement being pushed out further and further due to financial reasons, losing a job can ruin a person’s life and future financial safety beyond a certain age.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act

adea-actThe Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from age discrimination at the workplace, given that the employer employs at least 20 people (including state and local governments). The law protects both existing employees and prospective employees (people looking for a job at the given company). The law does not protect younger

The ADEA makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee based solely on age with regard to remuneration, privileges/terms of employment or conditions at the workplace. This includes all aspects of a job, for example:

  • hiring an applicant
  • firing an employee
  • promotions (or lack thereof)
  • pay
  • job benefits
  • assignments
  • and even training

It is also unlawful to retaliate against a worker for opposing age discrimination employment practices at a company.

It’s useful to know that the ADEA protects the older person, in case the parties involved are both over 40 years of age. Also, the law doesn’t work in reverse, meaning it doesn’t protect against age discrimination of young employees.

The Act was amended by the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) in 2009, which eases the proof a worker must present in age discrimination cases.

Age Discrimination Checklist

If you feel you were terminated or otherwise discriminated against because of your age, review the checklist below to get an idea of what constitutes age discrimination:

  • Employer directly using age related terms, whether they are degrading or not
  • Employer talking about other workers over 40, with regard to their age
  • Transferring of duties to younger employees
  • Differing, more favorable treatment of younger employees (during any part of the job process, including recruitment, training, remuneration, etc.)
  • Termination of older employees, but not of younger ones

Age Discrimination Claims

Age discrimination filings account for approximately 21% out of all workplace discrimination cases. The number of filings based on age discrimination peaked during the Great Recession, but has leveled since then, although at a higher number than before the recession:

Age discrimination filings 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
15,785 15,191 14,141 16,008 17,405 19,921 19,124 17,837 16,585 16,548 19,103 24,582 22,778 23,264 23,465 22,857 21,396 20,588 20,144 20,857 18,376


Based on court rulings, it is not especially easy to win age discrimination claims against an employer. The main reasons are:

  • An employer rarely says anything openly offensive regarding age. Even when the real cause behind a termination is age, employers will come up with an alternative reason for why they are firing the employee.
  • Replacing a higher paid worker with a younger one, who is paid less, is not a valid claim. The court sees this as good company economics.

Most employees, who feel they’ve been terminated because of their age, are usually better off looking for a new job, or settling out of court. Age discrimination claims can mean years in court, which is taxing not just on one’s pocketbook, but on your emotions as well. Also, future employers will see you as a high risk employee, who could potentially sue them as well.

Age Discrimination Lawsuit Examples

Here are a few examples, of age discrimination cases where the employee was awarded damages or a settlement:

  1. A 54 year old woman in Hawaii was fired, since the company owner said she “Looked like a bag of bone” and “Sounds old on the phone”. Her manager always gave her good reports, and told her the reason the owner was firing her. She won $193,236. (Source:
  2. A 75 year old woman applied for a job and was offered a position. Only after being hired, did the employer find out her age. She was told she wasn’t the right person for the job after all, and was given another role, from which she was fired after 2 days. She won $35,000. (Source:
  3. A group of job applicants above 60 were discriminated against during the interview process, since they had to write their age on the top of the job applications, while younger applicants didn’t. They each won $11,500. (Source:
  4. A 62 year old manger was laid off as part of a company downsizing, while a less qualified, yet younger manger was not. The plaintiff was able to prove that the company wanted a more “youthful image”. The fired employee won $95,000. (Source:
  5. After being employed for 30 years, a 61 year old man was let go, citing budget reasons. 2 other senior employees were also let go, but none of the 4 younger workers were. The lawyer proved that the company had a longstanding practice, where the last employees to be hired would be the first to let go. Clearly, the organisation went against this practice, when they fired the senior employees, not the younger ones. The man was awarded $540,000 in actual, and $600,000 in punitive damages. (Source:

If you want to see more cases related to age discrimination, head on over to the EEOC website.

Remedies for age discrimination claims include:

  • back pay
  • front pay
  • reinstatement
  • liquidated damages

Employees are not entitled to punitive damages under the ADEA.

How to Start an Age Discrimination Claim/Lawsuit

age discrimination lawsuit stepsIf you feel you have a strong case against an employer, here are the steps you need to take.