New Issues with Old Discrimination
LegalMatch just conducted a study looking at age-discrimination issues and found an overall increase in queries over the past 12 months. Why the sudden increase in people seeking legal help for their age discrimination claim? And what other trends have recently surfaced in the area of age discrimination law that effect everyday people?
Let’s start with the basis for any age discrimination claim: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA provides that discrimination of individuals over the age of 40 based on their age is illegal and a prosecutable offense.
Currently, the majority of age discrimination cases we see at LegalMatch are employment related: hiring, firing, and forced retirement contexts. This trend is not limited to one employment sector but rather affects both blue collar and white collar employees alike.
The most obvious culprit affecting these age discrimination numbers is the rising nationwide unemployment rate, currently hovering around 9.1%. Any time there is an economic downturn, people lose their jobs. When alternative jobs aren’t immediately available, a layoff that normally would be ignored can turn into an age discrimination lawsuit.
Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court recently made it much harder to win an age discrimination suit by ruling that the employee now bears the full burden of proving that age was the determining factor in his or her layoff, firing or demotion. This is a significant departure from the previous balancing test the Court employed, and makes this type of lawsuit especially difficult because rarely would an employee be present when their employers are discussing their future- a key piece of evidence.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal looked at another interesting aspect of age discrimination in the wake of layoffs- reverse age discrimination. The article examined the rise in younger employees being laid off, often times in numbers equal or greater than their older colleagues. Employees in their 20s and 30s are finding themselves more at risk of a layoff, as employers look to avoid age-discrimination lawsuits by adopting a last-one-in, first-one-out policy.
The LegalMatch study also confirmed this trend as a number of the age-discrimination inquires were disgruntled employees under the age of 40. One of the big problems with this trend is that this younger age group does not have the same legal recourse. There is no similar protection as the ADEA in place provided for the younger generation. Essentially, by laying-off the younger members of the company, employers are shielding themselves from an age discrimination lawsuit.
Although the standard for age discrimination has been raised, the potential for suits is alarming and laying off younger workers is seen as a solution.