August 27, 2018 Category: Age Discrimination
Four California women are suing a former employer, accusing the company of discriminating against them because of age. All of the women, who are over 40, spent more than 20 years working for a job training and placement group. While employed with the company, each woman climbed the ladder and secured management positions. Despite their years of service, each was separately told that she was being let go. According to the company, the termination was strictly for budgetary reasons.
The women and their attorneys argue that the company’s actions immediately after their termination say otherwise. According to the women, the company gave all remaining employees a raise. The company also hired new, younger employees with less experience to take the women’s’ managerial roles.
What is Age Discrimination?
California law protects employees from discrimination that is based on certain protected characteristics. Age is one of those classifications. This means that employers cannot take adverse action against an employee because of his or her age. Adverse action can include:
- Refusing to interview and/or hire a qualified applicant
- Paying an employee less than other equally-qualified peers
- Refusing or failing to promote an employee
- Refusing to award an employee a pay raise, increase, or bonus
- Refusing to extend certain job benefits (e.g., healthcare, retirement, education)
- Excluding employees from job activities, or
- Failing to provide reasonable accommodations.
Any of these actions, when performed because of an applicant’s or employee’s age, are considered unlawful discrimination.
Are Employers Ever Permitted to Hire Younger Employees?
Yes. Employers aren’t prohibited from hiring younger employees to replace older employees. Some industries and businesses are very demanding and simply require the capabilities of younger people. Employers may be not in violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws if their actions are designed to further legitimate business purposes.
What is a legitimate business purpose? Well, let’s just say that employers can’t fire someone because of their age and then claim that it was to further a legitimate business purpose. An employer who did this would have to point to an existing business policy or purpose that supported the termination of an older employee. That policy or purpose must be narrowly tailored so that it does not unlawfully discriminate against employees because of age.
Example #1: Employer A runs a manufacturing plant. They fire Employee B and hire a younger replacement. Employer A explains that there is an existing company policy that requires an employee’s employment to be reconsidered when they demonstrate that they are no longer physically capable of performing their job safely. Employer A points to several safety write-ups on Employee B’s record to support the termination. Employer A has identified a legitimate business reason for firing Employee B and provided information to show why the termination was necessary. This termination is probably not a violation of anti-discrimination law.
Example #2: Employer C runs an entertainment company in San Jose. Sam has been working a desk job for the company for more than 30 years. Out of the blue, Employer C fires Sam. Days later, the employer hires a 20-year-old to take over Sam’s role. When pressed for a reason, Employer C explains that Sam lacked the computer skills that were necessary to do the job well. However, Employer C had never mentioned this to Sam nor asked him to learn any new programs. It looks like Employer C’s motives were simply based on Sam’s age, and not his ability to do his job. This termination is probably a unlawful discrimination.
What Damages Can Victims of Age Discrimination Recover?
Losing your job or experiencing other workplace discrimination because you’re deemed to be “too old” can be devastating. If an age discrimination lawsuit is successful, victims may be entitled to:
- Reinstatement (if desired)
- Back pay
- Unpaid or underpaid employment benefits
- Higher income if earned, but never awarded, and
- Unpaid bonuses.
Victims of age discrimination can also recover damages to compensate for the emotional trauma they experience. This can include money for pain and suffering, anxiety, depression, and even embarrassment.
If a victim can prove that his or her employer acted maliciously or fraudulently, they may also be entitled to punitive damages. These are intended to punish the employer and are paid in addition to other awards.
Have you experienced age discrimination in the workplace? Our San Jose discrimination attorneys are here to help you understand your rights. Call us today for a free consultation.