Articles Posted in Age Discrimination

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is considered to be the primary federal antidiscrimination law, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 also provides important protections for workers nationwide. Both the ADEA and New Jersey’s antidiscrimination statute prohibit employers from advertising job openings in ways that restrict eligibility on the basis of age. A pending federal class action against several major companies addresses a relatively new method of advertising. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants restricted the visibility of job advertisements on social media to users in certain age ranges. Several recent decisions by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) support the plaintiffs’ position that this violates the ADEA’s advertising restrictions.

The ADEA’s protections against age discrimination apply to workers who are at least forty years old. 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), on the other hand, does not set a minimum age but states that employers may “refus[e] to accept for employment or to promote” a person who is more than seventy years old. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10-5:12(a). Both statutes prohibit the publication of job advertisements that demonstrate “any limitation, specification or discrimination” based on age. 29 U.S.C. § 623(e), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(c). Job listings that only purport to limit the eligibility of minors typically do not violate these statutes, since minors are subject to separate work restrictions. A job advertisement stating that a job is only open to applicants between the ages of eighteen and forty would violate both the ADE and the NJLAD.

In July 2019, the EEOC issued determination letters to seven companies based on charges filed under the ADEA. All of the charges alleged unlawful posting of job advertisements on the social media platform Facebook, which allows companies to target advertisements to certain audiences. The EEOC reported that it found evidence that the companies “used language to limit the age of individuals who were able to view the advertisement.” It notified the companies that it had found “reasonable cause to believe that [they] violated the ADEA.”

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The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) bars employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of factors like age, race, sex, and disability. This includes terminating an employee, refusing to hire a job applicant, demoting or declining to promote an employee, and many other decisions involving employment benefits and conditions. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled (the “Opinion”) that a woman’s claims for age and disability discrimination can move forward, finding that she had raised sufficient questions of fact about the defendant’s claimed reasons for terminating her employment.

The NJLAD prohibits discrimination on the basis of numerous factors, including age and disability. In the Opinion, the court reviewed the process for a claim under the NJLAD. A plaintiff must establish four elements: (1) they are part of a protected class and (2) are qualified for the position they held; and (3) the employer took an adverse employment action and (4) replaced the plaintiff with someone who is not part of the protected class. The burden of proof then shifts to the defendant to “articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the adverse action. Finally, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s alleged reason was pretextual, meaning that it was merely cover for a discriminatory purpose.

Reportedly, the defendant terminated the plaintiff shortly after she underwent gallbladder surgery. She was fifty years old at the time and had recently received “a ‘strong performance’ evaluation” from the defendant. She alleged that the defendant replaced her with “a person nearly half her age.” The reason given by the defendant for the termination involved a claim that she “attempted to defraud [the defendant] by failing to take steps to remove her ex-husband from the company’s health insurance plan.”
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New Jersey employment laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of numerous factors. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) offers protection to more categories than its federal counterpart, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, although other federal statutes cover areas that are omitted from Title VII. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, for example, protects older employees from various adverse employment actions based on their age. New Jersey law tends to offer broader protection in this area as well, without the lower age limit found in the ADEA. A putative class action currently pending in a New York City federal court asserts claims for age discrimination under the ADEA and several state statutes. Rusis, et al v. Int’l Business Machines Corp., No. 1:18-cv-08434, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Sep. 17, 2018).

The term “age discrimination” principally refers to adverse employment actions against older individuals, and in favor of younger individuals. The ADEA expressly limits its protections to people who are forty years old or older. 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). The statute prohibits various discriminatory acts and disparate treatment against protected individuals because of their age. As long as a person meets the ADEA’s age criterion, however, it is possible for them to bring a claim for discrimination against younger employees in favor of older ones. The statute allows exceptions in situations “where age is a bona fide occupational qualification.” Id. at § 623(f)(1). The NJLAD does not set a minimum age for protection against age discrimination. See N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12. An individual must, however, be at least eighteen years old—i.e. not subject to child labor laws—to assert a claim.

The allegations in the Rusis lawsuit follow the familiar scenario of discrimination against older workers in favor of younger ones. This scenario seems to be particularly common in the tech industry, which is often alleged to favor youth among job applicants, and to believe that older workers are less likely to be familiar with newer technologies. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the defendant began laying off employees in 2012 in an effort to recruit younger workers. It has allegedly laid off as many as twenty thousand people over the age of forty since then. The plaintiffs claim that the defendant has actively recruited among the age group commonly known as “Millennials,” which they say the company defines as people born after 1980, in an effort “to make the face of [the defendant] younger.” Rusis, complaint at 4.
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Many New Jersey employers include provisions for arbitration of disputes in written contracts with new employees. In order for an arbitration agreement to be legally enforceable, it must, among other criteria, contain enough information to demonstrate a “meeting of the minds” between the parties. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled that an arbitration agreement, signed decades after the plaintiff began working for the defendant, was not enforceable because there was no “meeting of the minds” in evidence. Flanzman V. Jenny Craig, Inc., No. A-2580-17T1, slip op. (N.J. App., Nov. 13, 2018).

The plaintiff in Flanzman is alleging age discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). This statute prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of numerous factors, including age. Whereas the federal statute addressing age discrimination expressly states that it only applies to individuals who are forty years of age or older, 29 U.S.C. § 631(a), the NJLAD does not set a minimum age. It does, however, state that an employer does not automatically violate the law if they “refus[e] to accept for employment or to promote any person over 70 years of age.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). This exception only covers two specific discriminatory acts: refusal to hire and refusal to promote. It does not mention other acts, such as termination or unequal pay.

In order for a contract to be enforceable, the party seeking enforcement must demonstrate that the other party knowingly assented to the agreement. Courts are particularly strict about this requirement when the contractual term at issue involves a waiver of legal rights. An arbitration agreement waives the right to seek redress in court. If the agreement provides for binding arbitration, the parties may have no recourse in the court system at all. New Jersey courts therefore require evidence that an employee “clearly and unambiguously agree[d] to waive his or her statutory rights.” Flanzman, slip op. at 8, quoting Leodori v. Cigna Corp., 175 N.J. 293, 302 (2003).
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A group of former male employees of a high-end Manhattan department store have filed a lawsuit alleging race and age discrimination against the store and its corporate parent. They claim that they were subjected to a hostile work environment because of their age or race, or both in some cases, and that the defendant unlawfully terminated their employment. Although the lawsuit is pending in a New York court, federal and New Jersey antidiscrimination laws provide a helpful comparison of varying levels of protection against age discrimination. New Jersey’s antidiscrimination statute provides broader protections than its federal counterpart.

Federal and state law provide a similar range of protections against race discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal statute, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, as well as religion, national origin, and sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of numerous factors, including race, color, national origin, and ancestry. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a).

New Jersey law and federal law differ in the extent to which they address age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), a federal statute, only applies to individuals who are forty years old or older. 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). It prohibits discrimination by employers based on age, using language similar to that found in Title VII. Id. at § 623(a). The statute allows exceptions, such as in cases of people who work in “a bona fide executive or a high policymaking position,” are at least sixty-five years old, and meet other criteria related to employment benefits. Id. at § 631(c).
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Under federal and New Jersey state law, age discrimination is an unlawful employment practice. If you have questions related to this area of law, contact a New Jersey employment discrimination attorney. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 prohibits discrimination based on age involving employees who are at least forty years old. Workers cannot waive their rights under the ADEA unless employers to make specific written disclosures under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) of 1989. A lawsuit currently pending in New Jersey alleges that the defendant presented the plaintiff with a proposed severance agreement that violated the OWBPA. The defendant argued that the severance agreement was moot because the plaintiff never signed it. The court rejected this argument. It found that the severance agreement could serve as evidence of a broader pattern of age discrimination in violation of the ADEA. Fowler v. AT&T, Inc., et al, No. 3:18-cv-00667, mem. op. (D.N.J., Oct. 31, 2018).

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against workers who are forty years of age or older. 29 U.S.C. §§ 623(a), 631(a). The statute allows exceptions, such as “compulsory retirement” of an employee who is at least sixty-five years old, has worked for at least two years “in a bona fide executive or a high policymaking position,” and meets certain criteria related to retirement benefits. Id. at § 631(c).

The primary purpose of the OWBPA is to prevent discrimination against older workers with regard to fringe benefits like health insurance and retirement plans. For example, the statute requires employers to incur the same costs for benefits provide to workers age forty or older as are provided to younger workers, and prohibits refusal to hire an older worker solely in order to avoid the requirement to provide benefits. Id. at § 623(f)(2). It also states that employees cannot waive their rights under the ADEA unless the waiver is “knowing and voluntary,” based on specific disclosures. Id. at § 626(f).
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A federal jury recently found in favor of a former employee claiming national origin and age discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and state law. Middlebrooks v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., et al, No. 2:17-cv-00412, 2nd am. complaint (E.D. Pa., Apr. 25, 2017). The case is notable in part because the plaintiff alleged that the defendants, an Israeli pharmaceutical company and its American subsidiary, discriminated against him because of his “American origin.” Id. at 1. If you have questions of this nature, contact a New Jersey employment discrimination attorney.

In early 2018, the court allowed the plaintiff’s claims against the Israeli parent company to proceed under a theory of joint-employer liability. The case went to trial against both defendants in November 2018. The jury awarded the plaintiff over $6 million in damages.

Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin, among other factors, and retaliation for reporting alleged unlawful acts. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a)(1), 2000e-3(a). The ADEA prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against individuals who are at least forty years old. 29 U.S.C. §§ 623(a)(1), 631(a). Unlawful discrimination may include harassment on the basis of a protected category, particularly when it creates a hostile work environment that prevents an individual from performing their job duties effectively.

Several bills currently pending in the New Jersey Legislature could make substantial changes to state laws dealing with employees’ rights in the workplace. Two bills address various forms of employment discrimination, and another two would raise the state’s minimum wage. Each bill was introduced in early 2016 and referred to a committee. Three bills are still awaiting committee hearings, while one of the minimum wage bills passed both chambers and is now waiting for the governor’s signature or veto. Whether any of these bills pass or not, they bring needed attention to issues that employees face throughout New Jersey.

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in New Jersey is currently $8.38 per hour. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a4, N.J.A.C. § 12:56-3.1. A bill that would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour has passed both houses of the Legislature. A15 would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour on January 1, 2017. On the first day of each subsequent year, the minimum wage would increase by the greater of either $1.25 per hour or $1.00 plus that year’s increase in the consumer price index.

The goal of the bill is for the minimum wage to reach or exceed $15 per hour by 2021. The bill was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly on February 8, 2016. The Assembly passed it on May 26, followed by the Senate on June 23. The governor has reportedly threatened to veto the bill but has not yet done so. He also has not signed it into law.

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Age discrimination in the technology industry has received considerable media coverage in recent years, as several high-profile technology executives have made quite blatant statements of bias against older workers. Employment discrimination takes many forms, however, and frequently involves subtle actions, or patterns of action, rather than anything overtly and unmistakably discriminatory. The use of certain terms or phrases in job postings may serve as evidence of bias against certain protected groups. Claims against tech companies have alleged age discrimination based on employment advertisements stating preferences like “new grads.” Over the past year, the term “digital native” has emerged as the latest in a long line of possible indicators of age bias by technology companies and other employers around the country.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against workers who are at least 40 years old. Exceptions include a “bona fide occupational qualification” involving age, or “reasonable factors other than age.” 29 U.S.C. § 623(f)(1), 29 C.F.R. §§ 1625.6, 1625.7. The statute does not prevent an employer from favoring someone age 40 or older over someone younger than 40, based solely on age. It is only intended to protect older workers from discriminatory practices favoring younger workers. The number of age discrimination complaints received annually by the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has increased from 15,785 in 1997 to 20,144 in 2015

Statements indicating bias against older workers seem to be common in the tech industry, if the news media are any indication. In 2007, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was 22 years old at the time, stood on stage at a conference and declared that “young people are just smarter.” His company settled an age discrimination claim with state regulators six years later, after the company advertised a job opening with the caveat that it preferred applicants from the “Class of 2007 or 2008.” It is not entirely clear why so many in the tech industry seem to favor younger workers. Youth is by no means an indicator of superior aptitude with computer technology, but that is apparently the perception of many. This is where the term “digital native” comes into play.

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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.
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