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Layoffs and Age Discrimination

You got laid off or fired. You’re over the age of 50, or even 40. Younger people, some of whom you’ve trained, get to keep their jobs. Is it good business orage discrimination?

ABC News is tracking this issue, and reports a great increase in age discrimination filings with the EEOC. It may be that companies are using the economy as an excuse to get rid of workers that they couldn’t fire under more normal economic circumstances.

As the economy continues to shrink and unemployment continues to rise, it may not be a surprise that the numbers of age discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC is growing. But the fact is that FY 2008 saw the largest number of age discrimination cases filed in history, and the EEOC recently came out with a statement saying that recent age discrimination cases comprised the largest categorical increase of any type of complaint that the agency handles.

ABC reports that “the commission received an unprecedented 95,402 complaints during a 12-month period ending in October. That’s up 15 percent from the prior year. Of those, 24,582 are charges of age discrimination, a massive 29 percent increase.”

Age discrimination charges and lawsuits come under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which covers people over the age of 40, who work for companies that employ 20 or more people.

The filings come from a diverse collective of employers, including the Lawrence Livermore mega- lab in Berkley, California and a Whole Foods store in Florida.

Employees are winning these cases. The last couple of weeks have seen enormous age discrimination jury awards and settlements. A jury in Massachusetts has awarded an elderly donut shop employee $100,000, and an Alaska medical center just paid $200,000 to settle a case.

But don’t expect companies to just start writing checks to people over 40 who get laid off. Most companies are prepared to fight these cases. In tight economic times, companies may also be more reticent to settle cases unless the complaining party hires an attorney.

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