This was an email I got from a reader:
Last year they hired a younger employee and I have been working at this job for over 30 years and have always been in charge of the bookkeeping department. The new girl is head now. I am 53 years old and I feel I have been discriminated against. I got a huge raise because they were paying the new girl a ton more than what I was making. I need help in deciding whether I could win a discrimination suit.
Age discrimination is rampant in this economy. It's not unusual for older employees to be the first selected in layoffs and demotions. If you actually lose your job, getting work when you're over 50 is tough.
If a younger employee is promoted over you, that could be age discrimination. But the question is, how do you prove it? Here are six practical ways you can prove that you've been demoted, fired, passed over or penalized at work because of age discrimination.
- Direct evidence: If your boss or HR are dumb enough to make comments about your age, then that's direct evidence of age discrimination. Juries and judges love this kind of evidence. Calling you "the old fart," asking when you plan to retire, saying you should make room for younger employees or saying you grew up when dinosaurs roamed could all be evidence of age discrimination. If these comments are made, write them down, noting date, time and any witnesses. If the person making that comments participates in the decision to demote or fire you, then you can use this evidence.
- Harassment: Those age-related comments could also be age-based harassment. So could other treatment you're getting that is less favorable than your younger colleagues.
- Discipline: If you had a pristine employment record before you turned, say, 50 and now you've started getting written up, that could be an indication of age discrimination. If you're being written up for things that younger employees also do without being disciplined, that could help your age discrimination claim. It could also be part of an age-based harassment claim.
- Exclusion: If your younger colleagues are included in lunches, events, or training and you're left behind, that could also be evidence of age discrimination or age-based harassment.
- Favoritism: When younger employees are given the best leads, assignments or office space, it's a pretty good sign that you're being pushed out due to your age.
- Promotions and hiring: If you look around at the new hires and the folks who are getting promoted, and they all look like they just graduated from high school, your employer may be discriminating based on age. Even if you didn't apply for a promotion or position, if you notice that only younger people are getting new jobs and promotions over better-qualified older employees, your employer might be trying to project a younger image.
If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs. While I can't answer every question here, your question might be featured in one of my columns, or in our upcoming live video chat.