Steven Siegler Discusses Age Discrimination with Lawyer Monthly
The magazine Lawyer Monthly recently spoke to employment litigator Steven Siegler of Phillips & Associates about age discrimination and what an employee’s rights are if they have been told that they are too old for a job. Mr. Siegler is an experienced employment attorney who handles cases in New York City, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Often, he handles discrimination cases related to age, gender, race, or a disability, but he also handles severance and executive compensation issues.
Mr. Siegler explained that age discrimination happens when an employer decides to terminate, demote, suspend, or not hire an employee due to a belief that he or she is too old to do a job effectively. Age discrimination can also happen if there is a hostile work environment that includes comments, code words, or jokes that stereotype older workers. For example, claiming that an employee is set in his ways or past his prime or lacking in enthusiasm and energy, or remarking that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, may constitute a hostile work environment.
The primary federal law that protects employees who are age 40 or older against age discrimination is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You can pursue an administrative remedy or a civil action for remedies in federal court under the ADEA. Remedies available through a federal civil action include lost pay, benefits, and attorneys’ fees.
Mr. Siegler explained that the New York State Human Rights Law provides further protection against age discrimination. The state law also protects employees who are under age 40. It is permissible to bring a reverse age discrimination case in New York, meaning that you were mistreated because you were considered to be too young. Under the state law, you can recover emotional distress damages, which you cannot get under the ADEA.
Mr. Siegler also pointed out that other state laws are more expansive than the ADEA. The Pennsylvania state law against discrimination, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, allows for civil penalties, emotional distress damages, and attorneys’ fees. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, you can sue for age discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination if you are mistreated based on your age, whether it is because you are considered too young or too old. If you can establish age discrimination, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination allows you to recover a full range of damages, including lost pay, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.
Often, claimants are concerned because they are not certain whether an employer discriminated against them based on age. Usually, employers these days are too savvy to explicitly say that they made an employment decision based on age. Mr. Siegler explained that age discrimination in the workplace can be shown through direct or indirect evidence. Direct proof could include written or verbal remarks that convey age-related stereotypes about workers. A comment such as “when are you going to retire” conveys an implicit stereotype about age. Often, code words are used in performance reviews, such as a statement that an employee resists change or does not have vision, Mr. Siegler noted. Code words can mask a discriminatory intent. Sometimes age discrimination cases rely on statistics that prove that an employer regularly terminates a disproportionate number of older employees while keeping younger employees.
Mr. Siegler explained that the litigation process and its outcome will hinge partly on the venue in which the lawsuit is litigated. Generally, federal court allows for a quick start to a case and aggressive case management by the court. However, it can take months or years for the court to determine a summary judgment case, and to decide whether the lawsuit should go to the jury. In state court, there may be a longer discovery period and less case management, but it can take years for cases to get to trial because the docket is often crowded. As with other lawsuits, most age discrimination claims are resolved through a settlement prior to getting to trial.
Employees of all different ages can bring value to a workplace. Mr. Siegler and our other skillful trial lawyers may be able to help you recover damages for age discrimination. Call Phillips & Associates at (212) 248-7431 or contact us through our online form for a free consultation. We handle employment cases in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx, as well as Nassau County, Suffolk County, Westchester County, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
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