Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is an ongoing problem in employment law. Whether due to inherent bias, a desire to cut costs or a need to eliminate high-risk employees from the payroll, employers have increasingly engaged in age discrimination in their employment decisions. Further, employers may often associate age with increased health problems, a proneness to injury, and higher insurance costs.

How am I protected from age discrimination?

Minnesota employees are protected from age discrimination under both federal and state law. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against employees age 40 and over from being treated less favorably because of age. Similar protection is provided to older workers in Minnesota under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). Under both laws, employers are prohibited from discrimination in any aspect of employment, including, but not limited to, hiring, termination, layoff, job duties, promotions, pay and benefits. Further, employers may not:

  • Refuse to hire or to maintain a system of employment that unreasonably excludes a person seeking employment because of age;
  • Discharge or discriminate against a person with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities, or privileges of employment;
  • Require or request a person furnish information relating to age, or require or request a person to undergo a physical examination, unless the exam is to determine fitness for employment;
  • Seek and obtain age-related information for purposes of making a job decision or obtaining information from any source, unless for the purpose of compliance with rules, regulations, or laws which legally require such information be disclosed.

Common Indicators of Age Discrimination

There are certain employer practices that commonly suggest age discrimination. Indicators that age was a factor in an employer’s decision to take adverse actions against employees (including termination and discipline) include the following:

  • Age-related comments and name-calling. Coworkers might refer to an older worker as Grandpa or Grandma; make references to “slowing down” and “not being able to keep up with the younger workers” or “ought to know better at your age.”
  • References and questions about retirement, inability to grasp new technology, younger workers being faster, better and cheaper are all comments that may be indicative of ageism in the workplace.
  • Situations in which younger workers are offered more or higher quality training and/or promotion opportunities than older and/or long-term employees.

Layoffs or Reductions in Force

In many reductions in force, age discrimination occurs when laid off individuals are simply replaced by people younger than them – even if the younger replacements were over 40 years old. Age discrimination also occurs where the individuals selected for termination are primarily long term and/or older workers. Employees who believe they have experienced age discrimination in a layoff or reduction in force should pay attention to the other employees selected for layoff at the same time. In addition, employees should note whether there is a trend in eliminating old, long-term, injured or ill employees.

The employment lawyers at our firm recently represented eight employees who were “laid off” from their employment with a Minnesota employer. Upon review of the individuals selected for layoff (in what the employer labeled a reduction in force), the employees learned that nearly all eight were older, long-term employees and had additional health and injury-related issues that arose during employment. The employees alleged that the company made termination decisions based, in part, on age discrimination, as well as disability discrimination, on-the-job injuries (workers’ compensation retaliation) and health conditions requiring FMLA leave. In this instance, the employees selected for termination were offered severance payments and severance agreements. Although the company brought a motion to dismiss the claims of those who signed the severance agreements, a U.S. District Court judge disagreed with the company and found that the employees did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into the severance agreements.

Age Discrimination and Hostile Work Environment Claims

Employees may also have hostile work environment claims related to their age. A hostile environment based on age may exist when the hostility is so pervasive or persistent that it adversely affects a person or group’s ability to perform their job. For example, a manager or supervisor who constantly badgers older workers to move faster and increase production but does not do the same to younger workers may be creating a work environment hostile to older workers. Hostile environment employment discrimination claims based on age often grow out of situations where younger managers or supervisors use derogatory comments and names when referring to older workers and their ability to perform on the job.

Contact Our Minnesota Employment Lawyers to Discuss Your Rights
Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP is dedicated to protecting the rights of employees throughout Minnesota. If you believe you have experienced age discrimination at work or if you believe you were terminated from your job because of your age, our employment lawyers want to hear from you. Contact us at 612-252-3570 or click here for a free initial consultation.