A northern California research laboratory has agreed to pay almost $40 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 120 older workers alleging alleging termination due to age, according to a recent Washington Times news report. In 2007, 430 workers were laid off when Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory restructured and shifted its focus from nuclear weapon development to scientific research. Purportedly all of the workers terminated were over the age of 50, according to a local news article printed when the layoffs occurred. After two separate jury trials in 2013 that resulted in contradictory rulings (one for the workers, one for the lab) that both sides appealed, the settlement resulted during months of post-verdict negotiations.
Although likely not public knowledge, complaints regarding age discrimination in the workplace are not uncommon. In fact, age discrimination-based complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have risen as much as 30 percent since 1997.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects workers – as well as job applicants – over the age of 40 from age-based discrimination. This law applies to companies with more than 20 employees and governs decisions relating to hiring, termination, layoffs, promotions and other terms of employment. Although Title VII does not prevent a worker over 40 from being fired, it does prohibit age to be the sole factor in the decision. Not surprisingly, the burden of proof falls on the individual claiming discrimination. In other words, a person claiming age discrimination must prove that his or her age – and not poor performance or a legitimate business reason – was the key factor in the termination.
What the Law Covers
To be clear, federal law does not prohibit employers from asking a candidate for personal information related to age such as date of birth. That being said, because these types of questions may discourage older workers from applying for a position, or imply an intent to discriminate, they should be asked strictly for lawful purposes. What is illegal, however, is an employer assigning work based on an employee’s age. Such an act is prohibited even if the employer sincerely believes the assignment to be beneficial for the company’s workers.
Common sense dictates that direct and express proof is the best evidence. Unfortunately, it is more likely that someone who feels he or she is a victim of age discrimination will need to accumulate additional evidence to support the allegation. For example, when companies layoff multiple employees and ask that a severance agreement is signed, it is not uncommon for information about the job classification and age of the those selected for termination (as well as those who kept their jobs) be required to be provided to the soon-to-be former employees.
New York Employment Lawyer
If you or someone you know is having issues relating to federal or New York employment discrimination laws – or if you are dealing with any other employment issue – contact the skilled and aggressive lawyers at Manhattan’s Levine & Blit, PLLC. Don’t be intimidated. Not all labor law cases or employer grievances are alike. To schedule your free, initial case evaluation call (212) 967-3000 today.