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Column: How to fight age discrimination in the workplace

Dear Savvy Senior: How does one fight against workplace age discrimination, and where can I turn to for help? — Discouraged Donna

Dear Donna: Age discrimination can happen to anybody over age 40, but it’s difficult to prove. With that said, here are the steps you’ll need to take to fight this growing problem if you think you’ve been treated unlawfully in the workplace.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is your first defense against age discrimination. This is a federal law that says an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire or treat you differently than other employees because of your age. Some examples of age discrimination include:

>> You were fired because your boss wanted to keep younger workers who are paid less.

>> You were turned down for a promotion, which went to someone younger hired from outside the company, because the boss says the company “needs new blood.”

>> When company layoffs are announced, most of the persons laid off were older, while younger workers with less seniority and less on-the-job experience were kept on.

>> Before you were fired, your supervisor made age-related remarks about you.

>> You didn’t get hired because the employer wanted a younger- looking person to do the job.

This law protects all workers and job applicants age 40 and over who work for employers that have 20 or more employees – including federal, state and local governments as well as employment agencies and labor unions.

If your workplace has fewer than 20 employees, you may still be protected under your state’s anti-age discrimination law.

If you think you are a victim of employment age discrimination, you may first want to talk to, or file a grievance with your company’s human resources department, but it’s important to remember the department works for your employer, not for you.

If that doesn’t resolve the problem, you should file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days from the date of the alleged violation. In some states, it’s 180 days. You can do this by mail or in person at your nearest commission office (see EEOC.gov/field/index.cfm) or call 800-669-4000. They will help you through the filing process and let you know if you should also file a charge with your state anti-discrimination agency.

If you do file, be prepared to provide the names of potential witnesses, your notes about age- related comments and other episodes.

Once the charge is filed, the commission will investigate your complaint and find either reasonable cause to believe that age discrimination has occurred, or no cause and no basis for a claim. After the investigation, the commission will then send you their findings along with a “notice-of-right-to-sue,” which gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law.

If you decide to sue, you’ll need to hire a lawyer who specializes in employee discharge suits. To find one, see the National Employment Lawyers Association at NELA.org, or your state bar association at FindLegalHelp.org.

If you lose your job in a group termination or layoff, you should consider joining forces with other colleagues. There are advantages to proceeding as a group, including sharing costs of the litigation and strengthening your negotiating position.

Another option you may want to consider is mediation, which is a fair and efficient way to help you resolve your employment disputes and reach an agreement. The commission offers mediation at no cost if your employer agrees to participate. At mediation, you show up with your evidence, your employer presents theirs and the mediator makes a determination within a day or less.

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