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Can Young Workers Be The Victims Of Age Discrimination?

There is a persistent myth that middle-aged and elderly workers simply do not work as hard. Because of this, discrimination in the workplace against older employees is sadly not uncommon. However, there is a flip side to that equation: young people are also treated unfairly or inequitably, often based on similar stereotypes. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects those over 40 from discrimination in employment, but pointedly does not cover mistreatment of younger people. If you are in a situation where you believe you have been unfairly treated, and you are under 40, you may have to do more work to clarify your options.


The ADEA prohibits any and all forms of discrimination against workers over 40, in any area of employment law. This includes in hiring and firing as well as in the normal course of employment. It also specifically prohibits harassment on the basis of age. While it does not prohibit general teasing or jokes, there is a line at which such behavior should stop lest it create a hostile work environment. It clarifies a basis on which a charge or complaint can be brought to the relevant authorities, most often the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The Act was passed in 1967 to help ensure that older workers’ rights are protected, because of a prevalent trend of stereotypes in favor of younger workers. Depending on the industry, there is some grain of truth to many of the commonly held ideas. In many fields, younger workers can be paid less, and their health insurance costs less to maintain. But regardless of the benefit to the business, the Act helps to ensure that all workers are treated appropriately. However, sometimes this means that younger workers are treated inequitably, and there are fewer laws they may depend on to alleviate that.

Options For Young Workers

There have been multiple studies that reflect that age discrimination does happen to young people, especially in old, established industries that may prize experience over willingness to learn. However, with the ADEA not covering those under 40, and most state laws (South Carolina’s included) following suit, there is no real legal basis on which a young worker can bring suit if they believe they have been discriminated against based on age.

It may be possible, however, to allege unfair treatment based on more than one characteristic. For example, a young woman might have a case if she is treated differently than young men who have similar credentials. But such a claim must be brought on the basis of a protected characteristic like gender. Youth is simply not protected, though characteristics such as race, gender, national origin and genetic information are.

Seek Experienced Legal Assistance

While the U.S. does not currently allow youth to sue based on discrimination, there may be another avenue under which you can pursue your claim or to settle the problem with your employer in-house. Contacting an attorney to discuss the issue may be a good first step either way. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has experience in age discrimination cases, and he may be able to help answer some of your questions.

Contact our office today to set up an initial consultation.

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