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Are There Defenses to Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination claims are an increasingly common source of employment litigation.

According to a report last year by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, age discrimination claims filed with the EEOC have increased by 38% since 2006. Age discrimination suits are also making headlines: News network CNN was sued this week for $5 million by a former producer who claims he was discriminated against and wrongfully terminated, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

In the event that your business is hit with an age discrimination claim, what defenses may be available?

Age Discrimination Employment Act

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act provides the federal rules prohibiting age discrimination. It also provides several different defenses against claims brought under the Act.

Among these defenses is the most readily apparent: An employee's discharge or discipline was for good cause and was non-discriminatory.

Bona Fide Occupational Qualification

Another defense to claims of age discrimination, and other forms of employment discrimination as well, is that the otherwise discriminatory standard is a bona fide occupational qualification.

A bona fide occupational qualification occurs when the nature of a job requires that candidates must exclude an otherwise protected class of people. For example, airlines have been allowed to have mandatory retirement ages for pilots because older pilots were shown to be significantly less safe than younger pilots.

Reasonable Factors Other Than Age

When a lawsuit claims that an employment policy that is neutral on its face but has a disparate impact on older individuals, the policy will not be found discriminatory if an employer can show that the policy or practice is based on a reasonable factor other than age.

For example, in an age discrimination suit that claims a business pays younger workers higher wages than older workers, the younger employees' education or skills may be considered reasonable factors other than age for the allegedly discriminatory practice.

Learn more about discrimination in the workplace at FindLaw's Learn About the Law section on Employment Discrimination.

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