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Jury awards more than $800,000 in age-discrimination case

Winning an age-discrimination lawsuit is challenging, but a recent case in Pennsylvania proves it is not impossible. A jury in federal court in Pittsburgh has awarded a 62-year-old former county jail officer more than $800,000 in an age-discrimination lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that the jail officer was the victim of a new warden's "housecleaning" of older employees. The jail officer was fired in August 2013 at the age of 58 after 30 years of service with the county. The new warden said the jail officer could resign or be fired. When the jail officer refused to resign, he was fired.

The jury trial revealed:

  • The jail officer was disciplined for a paperwork mistake while another worker made the same mistake and did not face consequences.
  • The jail officer received three other disciplinary actions from the new warden. Prior to the arrival of the new warden, the jail officer had received only one disciplinary action in more than 25 years.
  • The warden was mad at the jail officer for taking time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, a witness testified.

After the judge calculates full damages and other costs, the final award could be as much as $1.5 million.

Age Discrimination Is Alive And Well

Government statistics show that age discrimination is going strong, even though it is illegal. The Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 is a federal law that prohibits age discrimination in the workplace. The law applies to hiring, firing, pay and all other conditions of employment.

While the law is straightforward in its purpose, going forward with and winning an age-discrimination lawsuit is not easy because:

  • Some employers try to disguise age-discrimination dismissals.
  • Employees believe filing a lawsuit can make it difficult to get another job. They fear other employers will view them as a troublemaker.
  • The level of proof needed is high. In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled plaintiffs must prove that age was the motivating factor for discrimination. Prior to the ruling, plaintiffs had a valid claim if age discrimination was one of several reasons for a dismissal.

What should you do if you believe you've been the victim of age discrimination? Since these cases are so complex, employment professionals say a smart first step is to contact an experienced attorney who focuses on discrimination cases. 

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