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What is age discrimination?

When you graduated from college, people who were over 40 seemed like senior citizens. Now that 40 is in the rear view mirror, it doesn't seem old at all. You have knowledge, experience, patience and people skills that you lacked when you were starting your career. You're an asset to your company.

Unfortunately, too many employers are looking for younger people. Maybe they think they have better tech skills or are faster learners. They may fit the image the company wants to project. They also don't have to be paid as much or use as many benefits as someone who's been with the company for decades.

That's why federal law protects employees over 40 from age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). In fact, in November, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the ADEA to include local and state agencies of all sizes. Previously, only employers with at least 20 employees had to abide by it. For employers "engaged in an industry affecting commerce," the threshold is still 20 workers.

The Supreme Court case that produced that ruling involved a small fire district in Arizona. We discussed that case here earlier this year. The district claimed that because of its size it didn't have to abide by the ADEA. The high court disagreed.

Age discrimination, like any discrimination, involves treating employees or applicants differently solely because of a particular characteristic. This involves hiring, promotions, wages, training, termination and all conditions or terms of employment. The most common reason for ADEA discrimination claims, however, is termination.

Age discrimination not only hurts the employees who are the victims. It can hurt employers. An age discrimination suit can be financially costly. It can also hurt an organization's reputation.

Employers in both the private and public sectors should ensure that their policies reflect a zero tolerance for all kinds of discrimination. They should also ensure that their supervisors, managers and human resources employees know and abide by local, state and federal laws in the hiring and treatment of their employees.

If you believe that you've been the victim of age discrimination, it's wise to seek the guidance of an attorney experienced in handling age discrimination cases here in Arizona. Lean about your rights and potential legal options.

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