Combating Ageism: Strategies for Challenging Age-Related Discrimination

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Combating Ageism: Strategies for Challenging Age-Related Discrimination

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers 40 or older from being denied a job, promotion, training, wage increase, or employment benefits due to their age. It also protects workers from being laid off solely because they’re the oldest workers at a company. A company cannot place more value on newer or younger workers than established employees.

Age discrimination and harassment are also illegal. Co-workers, vendors, customers, management, and other people within a workplace cannot make derogatory or offensive remarks that are frequent and damaging. If the comments make a worker uncomfortable to the point coming to work causes dread or anxiety, there’s a problem.

It’s also illegal for employment policies and practices to negatively affect workers aged 40 or older. For example, a company has a policy stating that all workers between the ages of 20 and 45 qualify for company-paid life insurance policies, but workers 46 or older cannot enroll for this coverage. That policy discriminates against older workers.

 Age-related discrimination must be challenged in order to keep it from happening. If an employer gets away with it once, it will keep happening. As a manager moves to a new company, the same discriminatory practices may begin in this new business. Older workers become targets of bad behaviors by management, workers, customers, and vendors, and they get away with it because no one is speaking up. It has to stop.

 What Are the Different Types of Age-Related Discrimination? 

In 2022, 11,500 age-discrimination complaints were filed in the U.S. Over $69 million in monetary benefits plaintiffs received through settlements. It doesn’t even include the money awarded through litigation. What types of age-related discrimination cases are filed each year? There are four main types. 

Direct Discrimination

You are the person experiencing the discrimination. It’s specific to you and not a group of people around your age.

For example, a 64-year-old choreographer applied for an assistant professorship in New York and was one of three finalists. When the college found out how old she was, the college brought in a fourth finalist and made comments that they were doing it to bring in one more person who wasn’t as close to retirement age.

Indirect Discrimination

 Everyone in your age group is being discriminated against by way of policies or work requirements. 

Several age discrimination complaints were filed against several Minnesota government agencies for an “Age 55 Cliff” policy being followed in these offices. Workers below the age of 55 received higher contributions on health insurance premiums than those aged 56 or older. People under 55 got between 85% to 100% of their premiums covered, while the employers didn’t cover any portion of insurance premiums for workers aged 56 or older.

 Another example is one that people see a lot. There’s an appealing job opening, but the job says applicants must be able to lift over 50 pounds. Older adults lose muscle mass naturally at a rate of up to 8% per decade after the age of 30 and even faster after age 60, so there could be a complaint made that the practice favors younger applicants. 


The treatment you’re given at work by either a co-worker, manager, vendor, or client makes you feel bad about yourself because of your age. 

For example, a 50-something Hawaiian woman worked for years as an office coordinator, but the company’s owner started making comments about her being a “bag of bones” and that she sounded like an old lady when she answered the phone. Eventually, her job was taken away by the same owner who made the comments.


 You stand up for an older coworker who is being harassed and become harassed as a result of your actions.

Two managers complained about discriminatory policies that restricted them from hiring applicants over the age of 40. After filing their complaints, they were demoted in retaliation. 

Strategies for Challenging Age-Related Discrimination 

The strategies you can use to fight age-related discrimination are both on a personal level and on a state or national level. First, team up and support organizations like AARP that work to fight ageism in the workplace. It also helps you to surround yourself with a strong support group who are experienced in the situation you experienced.

Pay attention to the things you do that support discriminatory practices. If you see an employment ad stating applicants must be under 40, question it. Ask the employer why they’re limiting the age of applicants. While age discrimination is illegal, certain age limitations are allowed if job duties would be impossible for an older adult to handle. 

If you apply for a job and are asked for your date of birth, refuse to answer it until you know why they’re asking. An employer cannot ask you for your age when you’re applying unless it’s for legal purposes, such as ensuring applicants are old enough to drive the company care. It cannot be used to eliminate applicants who are more likely to retire in the next decade.

If they continue to push to know how old you are, cite the Age Discrimination in Employment Act as a reason for refusing to answer it. Let your area representatives and senators know what you’re encountering and have their offices look into it. 

On a personal level, make sure you understand your rights. Look up state laws on age discrimination and know where you need to go to file an age discrimination complaint. Read up on federal discrimination laws, too.

How Do You File an Age Discrimination Complaint in California? 

In California, the Cal Civil Rights System (CCRS) allows you to file your complaint online once you’ve registered with the Civil Rights Department. You can also call the Civil Rights Department or print out the form and fill it out by hand.

Make sure you include as much detail as possible, including names, dates of the incidents, and names and contact information for any witnesses. The more evidence and proof you have, the more likely it is that you’ll get a favorable decision. It’s not easy. Only 6.6% of cases in 2022 received a settlement. That’s why it’s often best to work with an expert in age discrimination complaints.

Work with an attorney who specializes in California age discrimination. An employment law attorney like Shegerian Conniff offers the knowledge and expertise you need on your side. You don’t have to tolerate age discrimination or accept it as just being the norm. It’s not okay and the attorneys at Shegerian Conniff help you decide if you’re facing age discrimination and what you can do about it.

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