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What Are the Elements of an Age Discrimination Lawsuit?

Older man looks at computer screen reading "too old"

Understanding your legal protections under federal and Ohio law

Both the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Ohio state law protect workers who are at least age 40 from discrimination on the basis of age. Unfortunately, some employers incorrectly believe that older workers aren’t capable of keeping up and treat them differently in hiring or employment on that basis. If that happened to you, then you should know your rights — and talk to an experienced age discrimination attorney. We can help.

The four key elements of a workplace discrimination case

As we’ve written previously, the first part of any employment discrimination lawsuit is establishing what’s called a prima facie case of discrimination — a legal term that literally means “on the face of it.” In an age discrimination case, the four elements are:

  • You are at least 40 years old (or, more precisely, you were at least 40 years old when the alleged discrimination occurred). It’s worth noting that while you must be at least 40 years old at the time of the alleged discrimination, the employer or manager who discriminated against you doesn’t have to be younger than you.
  • You did your job well enough to meet the employer’s legitimate performance expectations.
  • You suffered an adverse employment action, such as being fired, laid off, demoted, denied a raise, passed over for a promotion, or given an unfavorable reassignment.
  • You would not have suffered this action but for your age. This doesn’t require that age discrimination was the sole cause of the adverse action; it means that if you were under 40, the adverse action wouldn’t have happened.

For instance, if you were fired despite meeting performance expectations and your position was filled by a substantially younger but otherwise similarly situated employee, you likely have a prima facie age discrimination case. This doesn’t mean you will automatically win. It means the onus is now on your employer to show that they did not discriminate on the basis of age.

How your employer can fight back in an age discrimination lawsuit

There are several strategies an employer can use to defend against a claim of age discrimination. Some potential arguments include the following:

  • Reasonable factors other than age. They may argue the younger employee was a better fit for the position because of their skills or education, for instance.
  • Good cause. The adverse employment action was based on a non-age-related cause, such as poor job performance.
  • Misconduct at work, such as violating company policies.
  • Lack of required qualifications to hold the position. This argument often comes up in cases involving age discrimination in hiring.
  • Elimination of the position or general reduction in the workforce (e.g., layoffs).

If your employer offers one of these arguments, then your attorney’s job is to prove either that their stated reason is a less likely explanation than age discrimination or simply that it’s untrue. For example, if your employer claims you lacked the required qualifications but hired a younger employee who also lacked those qualifications, you may be able to rebut their argument.

Build a strong age discrimination case with an attorney on your side

Evidence is critical in age discrimination cases. Sometimes, it’s possible to find direct evidence of discrimination, such as a manager explicitly talking about letting you go or refusing to promote you because you’re too old. More often, it comes down to circumstantial evidence that, when taken together, shows that discrimination was a factor. For example, if the employer claims you were fired due to poor job performance, their argument is weakened significantly if you can show the court your positive performance reviews.

That’s why you need to talk to an experienced attorney who can investigate your claim, find critical evidence, and advocate for your rights under the ADEA and Ohio law. If you believe you were discriminated against because of your age, contact Nilges Draher LLC today. We can help.

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