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What Is Age Discrimination?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that in the most recent fiscal year, over twenty thousand discrimination claims were filed on the basis of age. Yet for those who have never experienced it, ageism is one of the most confusing discrimination claims. There are more involved aspects than most laymen think, and it is essential to understand the cause of action before you can mount a suit for compensation.


The primary federal age discrimination law is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), passed in 1967. There are many misconceptions about this law, the most common being that it prohibits any kind of favoring of employees over each other based on age. This is not in fact true; the ADEA only deals with alleged discrimination against those over 40 years of age, by those under that benchmark. Harassment and hostile work environments can occur between people of any age, but only that specific power dynamic is addressed by the ADEA.

Another misconception is that the ADEA only applies between supervisor and subordinate, when this is not the case. ADEA can apply to two employees, or two managers, or either – the crux of the matter is the age of both parties involved.

How To File A Claim

If you believe you have a case of age discrimination, and experienced an adverse employment action (in other words, were harassed, demoted or terminated), and you have reason to believe it was due to your age, there is a specific procedure to follow in order to bring suit. Most people would anticipate having to file with both the state authority (in South Carolina, the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission, or SHAC) and the federal EEOC, but the two agencies actually have a work-sharing agreement, which means that they process claims together. If you advise the agency where you file that you wish to cross-file, both state and federal authorities will have access to the information in your complaint, and may use it in helping you hold your employer accountable. Your claim may be decided at the agency level, or it may go to court. State law does not permit seeking compensatory damages for emotional suffering, so oftentimes filing in federal court may be the best option.

Be advised that like most causes of action, there is a statute of limitations on filing. Under state law, you have 180 days from the alleged harassment to file a claim; while under federal law, you have 360 days. Also, the evidentiary standard is quite high: if the allegedly discriminatory policy applied to everyone, you must show you were singled out, as opposed to experiencing inappropriate employment actions at random.

Seek Knowledgeable Legal Assistance

Age discrimination is perhaps less well known or familiar than racial or gender discrimination, but it still happens. If you have experienced adverse employment actions based on your age, having an experienced attorney on your side can make a difference. Attorney A. Christopher Potts of the Charleston employment law firm of Hitchcock & Potts understands that discrimination can make you feel devalued, and that is not something anyone should ever experience. Contact our office today at 843-577-5000 to discuss your options.

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