What Minnesota workers should know about age discrimination

A recent Gallup poll indicates that the average age of retirement has been rising steadily in the United States, and so has the expected retirement age of those still working. Unfortunately, with more older people in the workplace, age discrimination claims are also on the rise. According to a 2012 report by the AARP, more than 25 percent of older workers in Minnesota say they or someone they know has experienced age-based employment discrimination.

Age discrimination claims increasing as retirement age rises

According to the poll, the average age among workers who retired in 2013 was 61. In 1991, just 12 years earlier, the average retirement age was 57. Present-day workers who have not yet retired say they expect to work even longer; the poll indicates that the expected retirement age of those still working is 66. Meanwhile, the number of age-related employment discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has also been increasing, from 15,785 claims in 1997 to 21,396 claims in 2013.

As people continue working longer into old age, protection against age discrimination in the workplace will become an increasingly important issue. Older workers in Minnesota are protected from age discrimination under both state and federal laws. Unfortunately, however, these laws are limited in some regards and certain protections for older workers are not as strong as they once were.

Minnesota age discrimination law

Minnesota law prohibits age discrimination in the workplace for all workers over the age of 18. Thus, it is against the law for private employers in Minnesota to discriminate on the basis of age in matters of:

  • Hiring and firing.
  • Pay and compensation.
  • Job assignments.
  • Promotions and training opportunities.
  • Benefits and other terms and conditions of employment.

In addition, Minnesota law provides protection against mandatory retirement on the basis of age for companies with 20 or more employees. For smaller companies, mandatory retirement may be permissible at age 70 or older.

Federal protections against age discrimination

In addition to the protections provided under Minnesota law, older workers are also protected from age discrimination by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA. Like the Minnesota statute, the ADEA bars employers from hiring, firing or otherwise treating workers differently on the basis of age. However, unlike the Minnesota age discrimination law, the ADEA applies only to workers age 40 or older.

From the time the ADEA was enacted in 1967 until 2009, workers who filed claims for age discrimination were only required to show that age was a factor in a negative employment event, such as hiring or firing. In 2009, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case that changed the way that federal age discrimination laws are applied. Now, workers who wish to establish an age discrimination claim under the ADEA must show that age was the decisive factor in the employer’s decision.

As a result of this change, it is now significantly more difficult to prove age discrimination claims than it once was. Workers who believe they have been affected by illegal age discrimination in the workplace may wish to seek advice from an experienced employment lawyer to help maximize their chances of filing a successful claim.