Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

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The purpose of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is to protect relatively old workers (over age 40) from discrimination that works to the advantage of relatively young; discrimination against the relatively young is outside Act's protection.

Prima Facie Cases:

The plaintiff may seek to establish prima facie case of age discrimination by direct evidence of discriminatory intent or by meeting the "McDonnell Douglas" test-circumstantial evidence.

Direct evidence is rarely available. Some examples of direct evidence include age-related comments and remarks made by those responsible for the challenged decision, notations on an application form that the applicant is "too old" for the job, and a personnel manual provision to the effect that applicants over a certain age will not be considered. Plaintiffs relying on direct evidence of age discrimination are entitled to a remedy under the ADEA if they were fired because of their age, even if their performance was inadequate.

Under the McDonnell Douglas test, The plaintiff can prove his or her case by showing that he or she is within the protected age group; that he or she was doing satisfactory work; that he or she was discharged despite the adequacy of his or her work; and that the position was filled by employees younger than the age of the plaintiff. The test is a flexible guideline that must be adjusted to accommodate different types of cases.

Defendant’s Rebuttal & Plaintiff’s opportunity to show proof of pretext:

After the plaintiff has shown a prima facie case, the defendant must articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the employment decision. The two most common reasons are: “reasonable factors other than age” and “good cause”. Other reasons include misconduct on the job, lack of required qualifications, elimination of the plaintiff's job, and a general reduction in the workforce where past performance. Then, the plaintiff can either persuade the court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or show that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence. However, it is very hard for the plaintiff to further persuade the court after the defendant has fulfilled his or her burden in rebuttal.

[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]