Last updated Jan. 30, 2018.
Age discrimination is a growing problem in the modern workplace. Advances in health and medicine mean we’re living longer than ever before. Meanwhile, the Social Security system is on shaky footing and many older workers’ retirement accounts have yet to fully recover from the financial crisis. Workers paying record-high college tuition for their children or supporting their own elderly parents feel the squeeze even more acutely. This combined state of affairs means that many older workers need to keep working and drawing a salary, for much longer than they anticipated.
For businesses, however, the first loyalty is not to their employees, but to their shareholders and the bottom line. When costs need to be cut to increase profit margins, older workers are often the first to go.
Zatuchni & Associates receives many calls and inquiries from terminated older workers, inquiring as to whether they have a valid claim for age discrimination. The answer depends upon a number of factors unique to each individual. While there are no hard-and-fast rules to determine whether you have an age discrimination claim, what follows is a broad overview of the age discrimination law and the specific factors that support a successful claim.
Age Discrimination New Jersey Law: Your Rights
The New Jersey statute that prohibits age discrimination in employment is the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. (NJLAD). A federal statute known the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621 et seq. (ADEA) also prohibits age discrimination in the workplace.
If you are a resident of New Jersey, it is preferable to file an age discrimination claim in State court under the NJLAD, as the State law is broader and provides for more comprehensive remedies and damages.
Factors that Support an Age Discrimination Claim
The following are factors that may prove age discrimination in the workplace.
You are in Your 50s or 60s.
The ADEA applies to any worker aged 40 or older; the NJLAD, in contrast, sets no age threshold for protection. As a practical matter, however, a successful age discrimination claim usually involves employees in their mid-50s or older. There are certainly exceptions, but given our new longevity and the fact that “40 is the new 30,” a claim of discrimination is simply more credible the more advanced the claimant’s age.
You are a Longstanding Employee with a Good Performance Record.
Most successful age discrimination claims involve a plaintiff who has worked for the employer for many years, preferably decades, with a solid performance history. For instance, if you were hired in your early 60s and terminated in your mid-60s, your thin track record makes it difficult to argue you were fired due to your age. However, if you joined the company in your early 30s only to be fired after three decades of work, your case is much stronger.
This is especially true if you garnered positive performance reviews across the course of a long career. In age discrimination lawsuits, as in all discrimination lawsuits, timing is everything. If you worked for dozens of years to good reviews, then suddenly, once you hit 60, receive negative reviews and write-ups culminating in your termination, it is much harder for management to claim that your firing was neutral and performance-based.
You are Replaced by a Substantially Younger Employee.
Let’s assume that you meet the foregoing factors, being a worker in his or her 60s who is fired after long years of excellent service to your company. Your age discrimination claim is even stronger if you can show your employer replaced you with a younger employee. By “younger,” I mean substantially younger — for example, a worker in his/her 20s or 30s. Obviously, a judge or jury would take little stock in the fact that you were replaced with someone just a few years your junior.
Even more helpful is if you can show that your employer engages in a pattern or practice of replacing older workers with younger ones. Best-case scenario, this pattern or practice will be evident in your employer’s hiring records and produced as part of the evidence exchange in your claim. In some cases, however, it may be necessary to enlist the help of other terminated older workers as witnesses.
You have Verifiable Proof that Your Employer Made Ageist Comments.
Employers have grown extremely savvy about age-discrimination liability, and thus extremely adept at hiding their discriminatory motives. As such, it is rare that a manager will make a bald-faced statement of age bias, along the lines of “it’s time to weed out the old guys.”
Managers do, however, occasionally attempt to couch their bias in vaguer, more benign-sounding language, such as:
- “We need to make this a younger, more aggressive company.”
- “I’d like to see some fresh faces and new blood around here.”
- “I’m looking for someone with a long runway ahead of them.”
A successful age discrimination claimant not only heard remarks like these from management, but also can prove that fact — whether through contemporaneous emails or similar documentation, or through witnesses who are willing to verify the remarks occurred.
Contact a New Jersey Age Discrimination Attorney Today
Zatuchni & Associates specializes in discrimination claims across all protected categories. We’ve helped countless clients who have suffered workplace bias secure financial and legal compensation from their employers.
If you think that you have been discriminated because of your age, contact our experienced employment attorneys online or call 609-243-0300 today for a free consultation. Our attorneys represent New Jersey and New York employees.