Federal law and Missouri law prohibit employers from discriminating against employee or job applicants because of their age. Federal and state age discrimination laws, however, are not always identical. The attorneys at our Firm know these laws and how they impact employees and businesses in the State of Missouri. Should you be facing a situation involving age discrimination or a claim of age discrimination, you should immediately secure legal counsel to fully understand your rights and obligations before taking any further action. We are here to help you navigate and resolve any such situation.
Federal laws provide protection against age discrimination in public and private sectors. In 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Prior to enactment, studies showed that significant percentages of private-sector job openings explicitly excluded older job applicants on the basis of age cut-offs. As part of civil rights legislation, Congress directed the Department of Labor to study age discrimination. The ADEA (and other federal laws, like the 1975 Age Discrimination Act) followed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is the government agency entrusted with enforcement of the ADEA.
In general, the ADEA forbids employers from discriminating against individuals who are 40 years of age or older on the basis of their age. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful for an employer:
- To fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age;
- To limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s age; or
- To reduce the wage rate of any employee in order to comply with this chapter.
29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1)-(3). Similar, but distinct, prohibitions apply to employment agencies and labor organizations. See 29 U.S.C. § 623(b)-(c). The ADEA further prohibits employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations from retaliating against individuals for asserting their legal right to be free from age discrimination. Under the ADEA, such employers, agencies and discrimination are prohibited from discriminating against employees or job applicants because such individual(s) opposed any practice made unlawful by the ADEA or because such individual(s) made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA. 29 U.S.C. § 623(d).
The ADEA also contains many other requirements and protections, especially with respect to specific procedures and terms necessary to obtain valid and effective waivers or releases of age discrimination claims. See, e.g., 29 U.S.C. § 626(f). In dealing with an age discrimination dispute, it is critical to understand these specific procedures and terms, as well as the liabilities at stake. Unlike some other civil rights related laws, like Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the ADEA does not provide for the possibility of compensatory and punitive damages; individuals may only recover backpay (i.e, lost wages and benefits), frontpay, and, if a violation is shown to be willful, may also recover an additional amount in liquidated damages equal to their backpay. However, in an ADEA or other age-discrimination lawsuit, a court may allow the prevailing party to recover its attorneys’ fees and costs.
The Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) similarly prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee on the basis of the employee’s age. § 213.055 RSMo. Missouri courts have found “the same analysis applies for age discrimination claims under both the ADEA and the MHRA.” West v. Conopco Corp., 974 S.W.2d 554, 556 (Mo. Ct. App. 1998). “Thus, federal decisions interpreting the federal age discrimination act are instructive when analyzing MHRA claims.” Id. In addition, regardless of limitations on remedies under the ADEA, claims of age discrimination under similar state laws may enable recovery of damages not available under the ADEA, such as compensatory, punitive, and emotional distress damages.
Since their enactment, the United States Supreme Court and other courts across the country (including Missouri) have interpreted the various protections against age discrimination and addressed many other related issues under the ADEA. See, e.g., Mount Lemmon Fire Dist. v. Guido, 139 S. Ct. 22, 27 (2018) (state and local governments are “employers” under ADEA regardless of size); Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 173-75 (2009) (holding ADEA does not authorize mixed-motive claims); Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604, 606, 613 (1993) (plaintiff must prove the employer was motivated by “inaccurate or stigmatizing stereotypes”); but see Ferguson v. Curators of Lincoln Univ., 498 S.W.3d 481, 492-93 (Mo. Ct. App. 2016) (distinguishing Hazen Paper in affirming jury verdict for plaintiff).
Further, Congress has stepped in from time to time to amend the ADEA as the case law on age discrimination has developed. See, e.g., Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, Pub. L. 101-433, 104 Stat. 978 (1990); Age Discrimination in Employment Amendments of 1986, Pub. L. 99-592, 100 Stat. 3342 (1986). And the EEOC continues to publish guidance on the ADEA, examples of age discrimination, and other issues related to it. Whether it is a new case, a new conflict between decisions, or revised guidance from the EEOC on age discrimination, the attorneys at our Firm strive to stay on top of all significant legal developments related to the ADEA so that we are in the best position to effectively represent and protect your rights and interests if and when a need arises.
The Law Offices of Kevin J. Dolley knows how to handle age discrimination claims and disputes. To set up a consultation regarding your situation, contact us directly at (314) 645-4100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.