Age is a protected characteristic for the purpose of U.S. discrimination laws. In other words, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of their age. However, depending on the field, many companies will sometimes attempt to force older workers out in a process categorized as ‘mandatory retirement.’ While this is acceptable in some industries, in most situations it is seen as unfair discrimination. If you have been threatened with mandatory retirement, understanding your options is critical going forward.
Protected Characteristics Matter
Federal discrimination laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 cite specific characteristics that cannot be used by employers to discriminate against potential applicants or employees. These include race, gender, national origin, and ethnicity. The Age Discrimination In Employment Act (ADEA) adds age to that list of protected characteristics, which means that age cannot be the reason for any kind of negative employment action, from interview to termination or departure, once past the age of 40.
Despite this, it has been a common tactic for employers to try and force older workers to retire after a certain age—sometimes at 60 years old, sometimes even younger. This is rarely done by simply firing someone. More often, it is done in a surreptitious manner, making work so uncomfortable or even hostile that the person voluntarily retires or leaves the company. This is referred to as constructive discharge. Alternatively, workers are “forced” out by receiving fewer assignments or being assigned to “light” duty, essentially driving the point home that they are no longer necessary.
Know Your Options
If you are being subjected to the kind of treatment that may prelude to a firing or other negative employment action, and you suspect that it is related to your age, you do have options. The most commonly utilized, if attempting to address the issue with your employer has not borne fruit, is to file a complaint either with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC) or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Both the South Carolina Human Affairs Law and the ADEA prohibit age discrimination, so either agency will take your claim seriously.
There Are Exceptions
Be advised that there are rare exceptions to the prohibition on mandatory retirement. If your case fits into one of them, the agency will inform you of that fact. In some industries, age can be what the Supreme Court has called a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). A BFOQ is a characteristic that an employer can require of its employees if it is “reasonably necessary” to the operation of the business. For example, a young age was held to be a BFOQ for airline pilots, as there is a reasonable likelihood that pilots over a certain age would not have the reflexes and quick reaction times required to safely operate an airliner.
Contact An Employment Discrimination Attorney Today
It can feel demeaning and hurtful to be phased out of your own job, especially in a company where you may have contributed years of your life. Rest assured that except for in rare circumstances, you cannot be discarded simply due to your age. You deserve better.
Attorney A. Christopher Potts has years of experience in handling these types of suits. The firm of Hitchcock & Potts is ready and willing to provide a compassionate ear and practical advice. Contact our offices today to schedule a consultation.