Older workers typically earn higher salaries, earn more benefits and accumulate more vacation time. This adds to the bottom line cost of the company. But older workers’ performance, knowledge and experience commonly makes this investment pay off. However, unscrupulous employers do target older employees for termination to trim costs and a variety of other reasons.
Protections against age discrimination
Many federal laws and the Virginia Human Rights Act protect Virginia employees from workplace discrimination. Under the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA), it’s illegal for employers to discriminate against employees according to age. While the federal law protects workers at companies with 15 or more employees, the VHRA protects workers at companies with 15 or fewer employees.
Suing for age discrimination
If a former employee has suffered from age discrimination, an employment attorney can provide objective unemotional assessment of the case. When a former employee sues a previous employer, it’s a complicated and time intensive process.
Submitting a complaint
As the first step in the process, the former employee should file a claim with the Virginia Council on Human Rights or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Virginia Human Rights Act protects workers from all forms of discrimination, and the EEOC upholds the current antidiscrimination laws.
After the complaint has been filed, the EEOC investigates by interviewing the former employer, relevant witnesses and others to determine if the complaint is valid. Once the EEOC has completed its investigation, it decides to either grant or deny the right to sue the former employer.
If the EEOC affirms the complaint, then the plaintiff has 90 days to file an age discrimination lawsuit in court. If the plaintiff files with VCHR, then he or she has 180 days to file from time of the discriminatory act. If the lawsuit is successful, the court can award loss of wages and benefits. However, the state of Virginia does not allow the plaintiff to sue for emotional pain nor punitive damages.
After the plaintiff has satisfied the administrative claim requirements, he or she can file the suit in court. The next phase of the case is discovery. During this stage of the suit process, the attorneys representing both sides will gather information through depositions. This generates more facts and evidence on the specifics of the case.
After the discovery phase has concluded, both the employee’s lawyer and the employer’s lawyer will coordinate and seek a mediated settlement to the dispute, so it does not go to trial. Both the plaintiff and the defendant agree to meeting. The plaintiff, defendant and the attorneys have a frank discussion of the case and determine if a suitable agreement can be reached.
Most cases do not go to trial because a trial is prohibitively expensive for both sides. However, if no solution is found, the former employee can bring the case to trial. The plaintiff’s attorney presents evidence and arguments to support the claim while the employer’s attorney offers counter arguments, evidence and seeks to find inconsistencies in the plaintiff’s account of the workplace discrimination.
In the final analysis
We expect all employers to treat employees ethically, honestly and fairly, but it does not always happen. Many older workers have invested years if not decades in a company. Most older workers tie their livelihood directly to their jobs. An unjust and unexpected job loss comes as an enormous shock. Fortunately, federal and state laws protect you from age discrimination.