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EEOC serious about age discrimination

Age-based discrimination in the workplace was prohibited in New York and around the country when President Johnson signed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act into law in 1967, but research suggests that the landmark legislation has not done as much as lawmakers had hoped to address the problem. When the AARP polled 3,900 full and part-time workers aged 45 or older in June, approximately 60 percent of them told the advocacy group that they had either been the victim of age discrimination or witnessed a colleague being treated unfairly because of their age.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the agency tasked with enforcing federal employment laws like the ADEA, and its chairperson says that cases involving age discrimination are now an enforcement priority. She points out that researchers have discovered age is an unreliable predictor of performance or ability, which she says results in older workers facing discrimination because of stereotypes that have been thoroughly debunked.

While the EEOC may be willing to advocate on behalf of age discrimination victims, prevailing in court has become increasingly difficult for the agency in recent years. Federal courts have been reluctant to accept age discrimination as the motivation for disciplinary action when other factors could have played a role, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that age discrimination plaintiffs must prove that age was the primary reason for their unfair treatment.

Proving employment discrimination in civil court is sometimes challenging, and attorneys with experience in this area may encourage the victims of unfair workplace practices to gather as much evidence as they can before stepping forward. Attorneys could also encourage employers to settle these cases expeditiously by reminding them that allowing these types of disputes to be aired in a public forum could seriously damage their reputations even if they prevail.

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