Age-related discrimination is unfortunately very common throughout Florida and the United States. Workplace discrimination can come in all shapes and sizes. Age-based discrimination occurs whenever someone’s age becomes a factor in hiring, promoting, reassigning, obtaining benefits, bullying, or other circumstances related to a person’s job.
Fortunately, the law is designed to protect victims of age discrimination. Both federal and Florida mandates prohibit most types of workplace discrimination, including any discrimination related to a person’s age. As a workforce member, it’s essential to understand what is considered workplace discrimination, how to file a claim, and how an employment lawyer in Florida can help you should you find yourself a victim.
What Is Age Discrimination in the Workplace?
In 2020, workers filed over 20,000 federal complaints against age discrimination with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
According to the EEOC, age discrimination is any unfavorable treatment by an employer due to a person’s age. Discrimination can present itself across many practices in a workplace setting, including:
- Job assignments
- Terms and conditions
- Company Policies
Harassment can also be a type of age-based discrimination. In these situations, older employees are often ridiculed and bullied because of their older age. Federal employment law protects victims from hostile work environments, and you can also file claims against age-related harassment.
Though general workplace discrimination was first addressed with the passing of the U.S Civil Rights Act of 1964, it wasn’t until 1967 that age was introduced as a protected class under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
In 1992, Florida developed its legislation to deal with workplace discrimination and established the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR).
Over the years, federal and state laws have evolved to protect workers from discrimination and hold the responsible parties accountable.
Examples of Age Discrimination
Workplace age discrimination can present itself in many different ways. Some common types of age-related violations include:
- Not hiring someone due to their older age
- Encouraging or forcing more senior employees to retire early
- Firing someone due to their age
- Reassigning older employees to unpleasant or menial positions
- Refusing to give a raise to an older employee
- Demoting someone and replacing them with a younger employee
- Coded language in job applications to discourage older applicants
- Age-related jokes, harassment, and bullying
- Taking away benefits such as pensions and healthcare
In the United States, only a few notable exceptions exist where age may be used as a term of employment. Under “bona fide occupational qualification” (BFOQ) protections, employers may consider age as a condition of employment only when it’s reasonably necessary.
This applies to jobs like acting in a specific age-related role for television or modeling for an age-related product or audience. Otherwise, any time a company uses age as an employment factor, age discrimination laws will likely come into effect.
Workplace Age Discrimination Laws
Since the 1960s, several federal and state age discrimination laws have been passed to discourage and prohibit ageist practices:
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
The ADEA is notably the complete federal protection against age-based discrimination. The act, signed into law by President Johnson in 1967, laid the foundations for the first significant protections for older workers.
This act includes provisions that:
- Federally prohibit discrimination against employees 40 years and older
- Apply protections to hiring, promotions, layoffs, terminations, and wages
- Protect against age being used as a hiring factor under most circumstances
- Prohibit the denial or lowering of benefits when a worker reaches older age
- Ban the forced retirement or phasing out of employees due to their older age
It’s important to note that federal age discrimination protections apply to companies with 20 or more employees. Whenever a court rules that an employer engages in illegal practices, the ADEA allows victims to file lawsuits and recover damages associated with mistreatment.
Other than prohibiting discrimination, the ADEA is designed to reduce the phenomenon of long-term unemployment among the aging workforce.
The Age Discrimination Act of 1975
After the passing of the ADEA, federal authorities expanded additional protections to combat age discrimination in sectors that receive public funding, such as schools, universities, and vocational training programs.
Though this act was not necessarily designed with workers in mind, it further expanded federal civil rights. It allows victims of age discrimination to file claims and lawsuits whenever their rights are violated.
The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992
Many states enforce additional protections inspired in part by the ADEA. In 1992, the Sunshine State passed the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (FCRA).
The FCRA is more flexible when it comes to filing claims. Though the base protections are essentially the same as federal ones, Florida allows employees to file a claim even if their company has less than 20 employees, which in many cases can be restrictive when working at a smaller-sized company. The FCRA applies to employers who employ 15 or more employees.
Additionally, in-state claims, age is not limited to workers 40 years and older. In Florida, employees of any age, young and old, may file discrimination claims with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) and proceed with lawsuits in state courts.
How to Prove an Age Discrimination Case
Sadly, it’s often hard to obtain solid proof of illegal practices for victims of age discrimination. A 2018 survey by the AARP found that more than 60% of workers aged 45 and older had been victims of age discrimination. Unfortunately, many of these cases go unreported due to a lack of substantial evidence.
As with most lawsuits, proving a claim depends on a solid combination of evidence, testimony, and litigation. The best way to successfully proceed with an age discrimination claim is by hiring an employment lawyer.
Employment law is often complex and has many moving parts. Whenever you’ve been the victim of illegal workplace practices, an attorney can help develop a plan of action to ensure that your claim is strong enough to proceed.
To prove your claim, gathering evidence of age discrimination is essential, including:
- Text messages
- Company documents
- Payroll records
- Witness testimonies
- Employee policies
- Memos and miscellaneous items
Additionally, to prove an age discrimination case, you must prove that you were qualified for the job in question, met all expectations, and were mistreated by your employer due to your age. This may involve items like:
- Training certificates
- Proof of education
- Previous work history
- Witness testimony
- Statement of facts
In both federal and state claims, the appropriate bodies will launch an investigation into the allegations, and your employer has an opportunity to respond. Employers must provide evidence to dispute the claims.
In federal complaints filed with the EEOC, claims may proceed to a trial whenever the employer fails to provide contradictory evidence. In state claims, the same process is generally proper. Employers are required to respond to any allegations of discrimination and misconduct on time or risk unfavorable results by default.
Is There a Statute of Limitations in Filing a Lawsuit?
Whenever you file an age discrimination claim, you’ll have to consider the statute of limitations set forth by the law and file your paperwork accordingly.
Time limits differ between federal and state cases. Nonetheless, you’ll have to file a complaint with one of the two applicable agencies before proceeding with a lawsuit. Once you’ve exhausted this option, you may proceed with a case.
Age Discrimination Claims in Florida
For claims filed under the Florida Civil Rights Act, you have 300 days from the date of the discrimination to file a formal complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
Generally, after you file your initial complaint, the state has 180 calendar days to launch an investigation into the allegations and present its findings. Should Florida authorities determine that your claim is valid, you have two options to move forward:
- Request a hearing with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings
- File a lawsuit in a Florida court
Whichever path you take is mainly up to you, and an employment lawyer can advise you on the best option, depending on the circumstances of your claim.
However, any remedy you decide to take must be processed no later than one year after the FCHR completes its initial investigation. Failure to proceed within one year may result in your claim becoming invalid.
Both administrative hearings and lawsuits may provide you with financial compensation and punitive damages and can issue disciplinary actions against your employer.
Federal Age Discrimination Claims
For federal discrimination claims, the law differs slightly. If you choose to proceed with a formal complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you have 180 days to file from the date of the incident.
Similar to claims filed in Florida, federal authorities will first investigate your allegations before determining how you can proceed. Whenever the EEOC determines discrimination did occur, you’ll receive a “Letter of Determination” that outlines the government’s findings.
Afterward, the EEOC will generally work alongside you and your employer to resolve the situation. This may be through mediation, conflict resolution, or other methods.
If you are amenable to the EEOC’s solution, you waive your rights to file a lawsuit against your employer and proceed accordingly. If the answer is not to your satisfaction, the case is closed, and you’ll have 90 days to proceed with a lawsuit.
How Age Discrimination Lawyers Can Help Your Case
Navigating employment law can be tricky, especially regarding age discrimination. Though you can always file a claim without legal assistance, an employment lawyer can be an excellent resource in helping you get positive results.
Employment attorneys know the facts about age discrimination in both federal and Florida systems. As such, they’ll ensure that the process is done correctly and on time.
Additionally, employment attorneys can investigate the case and look for evidence to further reinforce your claim. This can involve filing records requests, interviewing witnesses, hiring experts, and researching the allegations thoroughly.
Often, individuals pursuing claims without legal representation can miss essential steps in the process or fail to gather enough evidence to support their complaint.
Should your claim proceed to court, an employment lawyer will be ready to prosecute the case against your discriminatory employer. Jury trials can be complicated to navigate, and a dedicated discrimination attorney will be able to select a jury, file motions, present evidence, and cross-examine witnesses to support your claim.
Age Discrimination Attorneys in Florida
No one should ever be subjected to discrimination at work. When employers engage in illegal behavior, the law can and should hold them accountable.
If you’ve been the victim of workplace discrimination due to age, Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. can help. Our established discrimination attorneys will review your claim and determine the best course of action. Contact us today for a free consultation.