Your Rights Against Age Discrimination
Stereotypes about older people abound in our culture, but employers are not allowed to rely on them when making
workplace decisions. A number of state and federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees and
applicants based on age.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA ( 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634), is the primary federal law that
prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and applicants who are at least 40 years old based on age.

The ADEA protects workers from age discrimination in every phase of the employment relationship, including job
advertisements, interviewing, hiring, compensation, promotion, discipline, job evaluations, demotion, training, job
assignments, and termination. In a recent case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the ADEA prohibits practices and policies
that are seemingly neutral, but have a disproportionately negative impact on older workers (disparate impact), as well as
those that explicitly treat older workers worse than younger workers (disparate treatment). (See Smith v. City of Jackson,
Mississippi, 125 S.Ct. 1536 (2005).)

Not only does the ADEA prohibit employers from discriminating against older workers in favor of those who are younger
than 40, it also prohibits employers from discriminating among older workers. For example, an employer cannot hire a 43-
year-old rather than a 53-year-old simply based on age.

The ADEA applies to all private employers with 20 or more employees and to federal and local governments. It also applies
to state governments, although their employees cannot sue them directly for age discrimination.

Discrimination in Benefits and Early Retirement

The federal Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, or OWBPA (29 U.S.C. § 623 and following), amended the ADEA to
specifically make it illegal for employers to use an employee's age as a basis for discrimination in benefits and retirement.
Like the rest of the ADEA, the OWBPA only protects people who are at least 40 years old.

The OWBPA prohibits age discrimination in the provision of fringe benefits, such as life insurance, health insurance,
disability benefits, pensions, and retirement benefits. Typically, this means that employers must provide equal benefits to
older and younger workers. For some types of benefits, however, employers can meet this nondiscrimination requirement
by spending the same amount on the benefit provided to each group, even if older workers receive lesser benefits. In some
circumstances, employers are also allowed to provide lesser benefits to older workers if those workers receive additional
benefits -- from the government or the employer -- to make up the difference.

State Laws

Many state laws also prohibit discrimination on the basis of age. Although some of these laws essentially mirror federal law
and protect only employees who are at least 40 years old, other state laws are broader and protect workers of all ages.

State laws tend to apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees, so your employer might have to comply with your
state law even if it isn’t covered by federal law.


© 2010 Nolo
Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Nolo, Copyright 2009,
http://www.nolo.com



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urie Law Firm LLC represents employees and employers throughout Northern New Jersey and Central New Jersey, including  
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State and Federal Law Protect Workers From Discrimination Based on Age