The bar in Massachusetts has risen. When you lose your job at 60, you may be tempted to sue for age discrimination, especially if your annual reviews were excellent and your replacement is 40 years younger. To you, your case appears airtight case, but the chances of winning could be low. Even worse, you could end up paying a high price by going to court, and not just in dollars.
Skyrocketing Age Discrimination Complaints
Age-related complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that deals with such things, have been climbing. In the decade prior to 2007, filings averaged between 16,000 and 19,000 annually. But since 2008 when Obama took office, the numbers of complaints have increased by more than 50 percent per year.
Federal law makes it illegal for an employer with 20 or more employees to discriminate on the basis of age. In Massachusetts, the minimum number of employees is six and the law refers to the age of 40 or older, according to the MA Employment Lawyers Association.
Proving age discrimination can be difficult. Few employers will come out and say that a person is too old to hold a job. Most bosses know how to conceal their rationale for decisions that are clearly illegal. But there is more to it than just gathering and presenting evidence.
Winning Has Become Harder
Several decisions have made it harder to win in court. It used to be that if you were older and were laid off to trim expenses at the company, there was an assumption of age discrimination because senior employees are generally paid more. Now the court’s view eliminating higher-paid employees as a reasonable part of reducing costs and the assumption of an age-related link is no longer there. In Gross v. FBL, the Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the plaintiff must prove that age was a motivating factor in discrimination. It could not be assumed.
When Age Discrimination Suits Backfire
Even when you have grounds for legal action, going to court could be a huge mistake. Suing your employer for age discrimination may ensure you never get hired again. Even if you win, you may find yourself in a hostile work environment. You brand yourself as a troublemaker.
The emotional toll can be tremendous. Do you really want to finish out your golden years in anger and bitterness? Lawsuits are very time-consuming at a stage when you might just want to get on with your life. Financially, you may be better off settling out of court as well.
What to do if you sue
Meet with an attorney who specializes in employee discharge suits. In Massachusetts, the MA Employment Lawyers is a good place to start. Review the laws where you live.
Go over everything you signed when leaving your job. Put together a written record documenting anything that implies age discrimination.
If you and your lawyer think you have a case, file a complaint with the EEOC.