Workers who believe their age has cost them — whether it's a job, a promotion, a raise — have options for fighting back. Eric Bachman and Kellee Boulais Kruse, legal specialists in employment discrimination, recommend these steps:
1. Talk with a supervisor.
“It doesn't have to be a formal complaint right off the bat,” says Bachman, a principal at Zuckerman Law in Washington, D.C. “Sometimes the issues can be addressed in an informal conversation."
2. Keep a log.
Document comments and actions you believe were driven by discrimination and keep any records, such as emails. A time line is helpful, especially to show retaliation after a complaint has been lodged. But don't record conversations secretly if that runs afoul of state laws or company policies, says Kruse, a principal at the Employment Law Group P.C. in D.C. And don't transfer emails or documents to outside parties or a private email if that violates company rules. A fired worker who can't take confidential information with them when they leave should note the dates of emails and names of documents on the company network. They can request these later as part of any legal proceedings, Kruse says.
3. Lodge a complaint with the company.
If conversations with managers don't achieve anything, go through the organization's formal complaint process, whether it's via the human resources department or a higher-level manager. Make sure your concerns and observations are in writing.
4. Get a lawyer.
You need someone to educate you on your options. For example, the filing deadline for an age discrimination case at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is generally within 180 days from the time of the offense, though workers in some states have more generous deadlines. Kruse points out that a lawyer can help a worker decide where to best file the claim — such as in the state where the person works or the jurisdiction where the company is headquartered. Lawyers usually take these cases on a contingency basis; if you win, the lawyer gets a percentage of any monetary judgment. Some law firms and organizations may offer pro bono (free) or reduced-price help. A good place to start is the National Employment Lawyers Association website — nela.org — and search the Find A Lawyer directory. The American Bar Association offers, among other services, a virtual clinic for dispensing free advice; go to ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org.