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Senior official at EEOC calls age discrimination 'open secret'

Economic news in New York might boast of low unemployment, but older workers continue to face challenges in the workplace or while job hunting. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act officially protects workers over age 40 from unfair treatment, but age discrimination remains a leading cause of complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A senior adviser at the organization referred to age discrimination as an "open secret."

Violations of the ADEA frequently involve harassment of older workers, discriminatory firings and job terms and conditions that target older people with policies like mandatory retirement. A report on the problem issued by the EEOC noted that some lawsuits stem from intersectional claims from people who were discriminated against for two or more illegal reasons, like gender and age.

Companies that want to avoid violating the rights of older workers can use many strategies. Outreach materials, like job listings and recruitment websites, should portray diverse people, including older people. Job listings that could imply a preference for young candidates could also expose a company to liability. Dog-whistle terms related to age discrimination includes "digital native," "go-getter" and "energetic." The language used by hiring managers during job interviews might represent age discrimination as well.

When a person suspects that unfair treatment blocked job opportunities, a conversation with an attorney might provide guidance. An attorney may be able to compare the person's experience to employment law and potentially recommend filing a complaint with the EEOC or a lawsuit. An attorney might also examine the employer's policies to see if they favor younger people. After compiling evidence, an attorney may communicate the complaint to the employer and suggest how to settle the case. Possible settlements might include a person's reinstatement to a position along with back pay or a purely financial settlement.

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