Employment discrimination on the basis of age, especially against workers who are into or past what is often considered “middle age,” and who are looking for a job, does not always receive as much media attention as other forms of discrimination. The federal and state laws regarding this type of discrimination are also not as well known or understood. It is becoming more and more of a problem, however, as the American population ages. A few recent cases illustrate how an age discrimination claim in New Jersey might work.
Research regarding the issues faced by older workers indicates that people in their 50s or older tend to have a much harder time finding a job than younger workers. The discrimination is rarely overt, instead taking the form of certain reasons given not to hire someone, such as “You’re overqualified.” This can make discrimination difficult to prove, but the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) allows claims for age discrimination in employment. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., also allows civil claims, but it only applies to workers above a certain age in certain situations.
The NJLAD provides relatively strong protection for workers asserting age discrimination claims. New Jersey courts have held that the statute preempts common law claims, such as breach of contract or breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, if they are primarily based on alleged age discrimination. See Broad v. Home Depot USA, 16 F.Supp.3d 413, 419 (D.N.J. 2014). The ADEA protects workers who are 40 years of age or older against discrimination that is not based on a “reasonable factor other than age.” See 29 C.F.R. § 1625.7, 77 Fed. Reg. 19080 (Mar. 30, 2012). It also prohibits workplace harassment based on age. The statute does not, however, prohibit an employer from favoring an older employee over a younger one.