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Tackling age discrimination as America's workforce ages

Americans are living longer and staying healthy and active well into their senior years. That means that more people are working past the one-time "traditional" retirement age of 65. Even for many people who'd like to retire, it's not an option. They have debt, on-going living expenses and family members to support. They need to continue working.

Gone are the days when people worked for one employer for their entire adult lives and then retired with a gold watch and a nice pension. Many people change employers multiple times throughout their careers. That means they're in the job market in the latter half of their lives.

While we think of age discrimination as something that impacts baby boomers and those even older, some people in "Generation X" are now in their 50s. Even they are considered too old by some employers. Age discrimination in the workplace against those who are 40 years old and above has been illegal for over half a century thanks to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

However, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The acting chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that the federal agency is aggressively fighting discrimination against older people looking for jobs as well as those already employed.

In a recent report, the EEOC gave this grim assessment of the situation: "Despite decades of research finding that age does not predict ability or performance, employers often fall back on precisely the ageist stereotypes the ADEA was enacted to prohibit." A recent study by AARP found that three-fifths of people 45 and older said that they had either experienced age discrimination first hand in the workplace or had witnessed it.

Proving in court that an employer is guilty of age discrimination, however, can be challenging. Courts often give employers the benefit of the doubt if they claim that "reasonable factors other than age," in the language of the ADEA, were behind an employment decision. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that those who bring an age discrimination claim must prove that it was a "primary factor" in a decision. That's difficult to do.

Nonetheless, if you believe that your employer or a potential employer has discriminated against you because of your age, it's worth finding out what your legal options are. An experienced Arizona age discrimination attorney can help you evaluate the situation.

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