"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter." ~ Mark Twain
Not all age discrimination is illegal. For example, there is legal age discrimination, whereby persons under 18 cannot sign contracts. Also, persons in Tennessee younger than 21 cannot legally consume alcohol.
Illegal age discrimination is what people usually mean when they use the term "age discrimination."
Q: How are employees protected against illegal age discrimination?
A: Persons who are 40 or older are protected by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including employment agencies and state and local governments.
The ADEA applies in hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.
It is illegal to retaliate against a person for complaining about discrimination, filing a charge of discrimination, or participating in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
It is also unlawful to harass a person because of her or his age. The ADEA doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren't very serious, but, as the EEOC notes, "harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted)."
Q: Does Tennessee also have a law against age discrimination?
A: Yes. The Tennessee Human Rights Act ("THRA") also prohibits age discrimination, and applies to any employer with 8 or more employees.
Q: Are there filing deadlines in Tennessee regarding age discrimination?
A: Yes. The deadlines are:
•300 days from the date of alleged harm to file an ADEA violation charge with the EEOC (and then 90 days to file a lawsuit after receiving a right-to-sue letter);
•180 days to file a complaint for age discrimination under the THRA; and
•One year to file a lawsuit under the THRA.
James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call (615) 452-9200.