Age discrimination is a growing problem for Washington employees especially as baby boomers are approaching retirement age. The Seattle area is home to several large technology companies, including Microsoft and Amazon, which have a reputation for ageism given the constant need to adjust to changes as technology emerges and the desire to lead the industry with new and fresh ideas and products. Although the desire for innovation is understandable, it has resulted in discrimination against older workers whether intended or not.
Many older employees, especially those approaching retirement, have found themselves suddenly being scrutinized and targeted after twenty or even thirty years of loyal service to their employer. At Sapphire Legal, we believe that employees of all ages are entitled to fair treatment from their employers and that older employees should not have to worry about suddenly losing their jobs in the final years of their careers.
If You’ve Suffered from Age Discrimination, We Can Help
Employees age 40 and older who face age discrimination may have valid legal claims against their employers. Federal and state laws protect Washington employees from age discrimination and allow employees who have been discriminated based on age to collect damages for lost wages and retirement income resulting from discrimination. If you have been terminated from your job, denied a promotion, or experienced any other adverse treatment from your employer because of your age, you may have a right to compensation. This does not mean that you have to sue your employer, although it is an option. At Sapphire Legal, we approach cases from your perspective and formulate a plan for hanfling your case based on your goals and using a tone and level of aggressiveness that is most comfortable for you.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that protects people age 40 and older from employment discrimination based on their age. The ADEA only applies to employers with 20 or more employees. Successful claimants under the ADEA must prove that their employer discriminated against them based on their age. Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), RCW 49.60, also prohibits age discrimination and applies to employers with eight or more employees. Under the WLAD, an employee must show that his or her age was a substantial factor motivating the employer to take adverse action against the employee.
Exceptions to Age Discrimination Claims
There are a few exceptions to the laws prohibiting discrimination. For example, employers can force executive employees who work in “high policy-making decisions” to retire at age 65 but they may only do so when the employee receives an annual retirement pension of at least $44,000 per year. The ADEA also recognizes an exception for fire and police personnel, tenured faculty at universities, and air traffic controllers.
Employers Cannot Deny Benefits to Older Workers
The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) protects older workers. The OWBPA amended the ADEA. As a result of the OWBPA, employers cannot deny employment benefits to older employees. For example, an employer cannot deny enrollment in its health insurance or retirement programs based on an employee’s age. Additionally, employers cannot fire employees to prevent them from accessing their pension benefits from vesting. The OWBPA made it illegal for employers to target older workers for their layoffs on the basis that their benefits are more costly than those of younger workers. Employers are required to follow the “equal benefits or equal cost” rule. They must pay the same benefit costs for all employees or provide equal benefits to younger and older workers.
Examples of Age Discrimination
Age discrimination can happen in a variety of different ways. Rarely, this type of discrimination is blatant and obvious. In most cases, employers hide age discrimination, making the age discrimination more subtle. Here are some examples of potentially illegal age discrimination in the workplace:
- An employer doesn’t hire someone because he or she wanted a younger-looking person
- An employer fired an employee to hire a younger employee who makes less money
- The employer gave a younger employee a promotion because they “need fresh blood”
- During a layoff, the employer lays off more older workers
- The employer made age-based remarks before terminating an older employee
- An apprenticeship program discriminates based on age
- An employer includes age restrictions on job advertisements
Some types of discrimination are more subtle and difficult to prove. For example, an employee might receive an unfavorable evaluation for being inflexible and unwilling to take on new projects for the employer. At first, this feedback may seem legitimate. However, sometimes employers use phrases like “inflexible” to cover up their preference for younger employees. At Sapphire Legal, we will evaluate the specific facts in your case to determine if you have a legal claim for age discrimination.
Can an Employer Ask for a Potential Employee’s Age or mention Age to an Employee?
The ADEA does not prohibit employers from asking for the age of a potential applicant or discussing age at work. However, if such questions or comments are made for the purpose of discriminating against an individual, they are illegal.
Turning Down Employees Because They Are Overqualified
Employers often do not hire, promote or terminate employees because they are overqualified. In many cases, employers use the justification of overqualification to hide their age discrimination practices.
Available Remedies in Age Discrimination Cases
Employees who have been subject to age discrimination are entitled to several different remedies. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal government agency that is responsible for investigating job discrimination charges related to an individual’s age. Washington’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) is the state agency that enforces discrimination laws. Employees can file complaints with either agency. Employees may also file a lawsuit. Specific rules and time limitations apply for purposes of bringing a lawsuit for age discrimination as well and we encourage employees to speak with us right away if they suspect they have been discriminated against based on age. Successful claimants may be entitled to the following:
- Back pay for the time they did not work
- Being hired for the job
- A promotion
- Reinstatement to the position
- Front pay
- Other remedies that make the victim whole
- Attorney’s fees and court costs
Contact Our Washington Age Discrimination Lawyers
At Sapphire Legal, we dedicate our entire employment law practice to fighting for the rights of employees. If you’ve suffered age discrimination in the workplace, we can help. Contact our employment law firm today.