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Aging workforce means more age discrimination

The workforce in Pennsylvania and across the United States is quickly aging. According to AARP, approximately 35 percent of the American workforce will be over the age of 50 by 2022, which is a 25 percent jump from 2002. Unfortunately, this means that age discrimination in the workplace will also increase.

Employment advocates say that the current middling economy pits older workers against younger ones, as companies weed out experienced, higher-paid employees in favor of cheaper ones. Making matters worse, a series of Supreme Court decisions has eroded the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, making it easier for employers to get away with firing older workers. For example, a 2009 ruling eliminated what is known as "mixed motive" cases. This means that plaintiffs must now prove that age was the primary reason they were let go, not just a contributing factor. Another problem is that protections for older workers were deliberately left out of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which means it can be harder for plaintiffs to win large settlements.

However, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission still receives around 20,000 age discrimination complaints each year, and the agency wins many cases. For example, one company agreed to pay $900,000 to settle an EEOC case alleging it chose to reduce its workforce by targeting older workers for layoffs. In California, a jury awarded $700,000 to a firefighter after his employer transferred him to an outpost far from his home, hoping the long commute would force him to retire.

Workers or job applicants who experience age discrimination may find relief by speaking with an attorney. Legal counsel could explain the available options and help file a complaint with the EEOC if warranted.

Source: NBC News, "For Older Workers, Getting a New Job Can Be a Gamble," Bob Sullivan, July 10, 2016

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