Workers in California at or over the age of 40 are protected against age-based employment discrimination by both state and federal laws. Workers who file claims under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act must prove that age was the sole reason for an adverse employment action, which can be difficult when employers are able to cite other reasons for refusing to hire, demoting or terminating an older employee.
These challenges were highlighted recently in a case involving a 47-year-old woman who filed an age discrimination lawsuit after being fired by an Ohio bank in 2016. The woman claimed that her lawsuit that the bank’s CEO preferred young tellers and made disparaging remarks about older employees. However, her lawsuit was dismissed because she admitted to violating a company policy that required workers to request time off in writing. The AARP, EEOC and the National Employment Lawyers Association have filed amicus briefs urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to reconsider its decision.
What is known as the “sole cause” standard does not apply if workers in California pursue age discrimination claims based on violations of state law. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act only requires older workers to establish that age was a motivating factor for an adverse employment action. The employer must then prove that they would have acted in the same way regardless of the worker’s age.
Workplace discrimination and harassment cases can be complex when state and federal employment law standards differ. Attorneys with experience in this area could assess the facts of a harassment case and then advise workers about their legal options. They could also urge employers to settle these cases discretely to protect their reputations and avoid public court actions.