Age discrimination in Missouri growing despite laws against it

Federal and Missouri state law prevents an employer from discriminating against an older individual. This means an employer cannot terminate, harass or refuse to hire an employee solely based on age. However, in recent years several studies and a U.S. Supreme Court decision has shown that the aging population does have a harder time finding work, partially due to discrimination, than younger workers.

Age discrimination generally affects baby boomers. Lawsuits claiming age discrimination or bias have skyrocketed, and are the fastest growing type of discrimination claim. Nationally in 2012, 22,875 people filed age discrimination claims, while in 1997 only 15,875 filed similar suits.

Federal laws have not offered the protections promised when they were passed. A National Bureau of Economic Research study found that while older workers tended to work longer at the same position, if they became unemployed they had a much more difficult time getting new work than younger applicants.

It is true that older workers tend to have less unemployment than younger workers, but that is not necessarily the whole story. Older workers have more of a tendency to retire early than younger workers, meaning that many aging people may simply lose the drive to find a new job. This decreases unemployment even though many veteran workers would still be in the workplace if not let go from their jobs.

Federal courts have not been kind to age discrimination cases, either. A 2009 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court raised the standard for claimants to win an age discrimination case. Now, a worker claiming age discrimination must prove that an employee's age was the sole cause of the dismissal. In other words, if "but for" the age of the employee, the worker would still be on the job, then he or she will win the case. This can be difficult to prove, however, and even one bad performance review or "cutbacks" could render a case difficult to win.

Fortunately, states have their own laws regarding age discrimination, many of which are stronger than federal law. The District of Columbia and 29 states have tougher age discrimination laws than the federal government, according to a Princeton study. For example, under the Missouri Human Rights Act, employers cannot refuse to hire or fire employees based simply because they are between the ages of forty and seventy. Further state law forbids limiting, segregating or classifying an employee based on that same age group. Finally, older employers have the right to be treated the same as other employees in matters of compensation and terms and conditions of employment. Unlike the federal law, Missouri does not have caps regarding amounts of compensation for employees discriminated against who are over forty.

The Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act bans the same type of conduct, but has no upper cap on the protected class as all employees aged forty or above, working for a company with twenty or more employees, are protected. The ADEA also bans harassment of an individual on the basis of their age.

Applicants and former employees who believe they have been discriminated against based on their age should contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss their legal options. If a claim is successful, it may result in backpay, reinstatement to the position and other damages.