and hard work..."
- L.D., Portland.
Age discrimination is prohibited in Vermont for very good reasons. Age diversity brings employees with different experiences, abilities, and points of view to the table, helping to increase innovation and creative problem-solving. Age discrimination against older employees often results in long-term unemployment and loss of lifetime earnings. Ageist stereotypes apply to people of all ages. Younger people are often stigmatized as difficult to manage, entitled, and overly sensitive. Older people are often perceived as forgetful, unable to learn new skills, or physically weak.
State and federal laws prohibit age discrimination in Vermont. A key difference between Vermont’s anti-discrimination law (the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act, or VFEPA) and the federal law (the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA) is that state law protects employees of all ages while the federal law only applies to employees over age 40. Thus, the ADEA permits employers to favor older workers based on age even when doing so adversely affects a younger worker who is 40 or older, an employment practice that would be illegal under the VFEPA. The Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act covers all employers with one or more employees, but federal law only covers employers with 20 or more employees.
Age discrimination is illegal at all stages of employment including during hiring, promotions, raises and layoffs. The law also prohibits workplace harassment, by coworkers, supervisors or clients, because of age. Mandatory retirement ages are also prohibited except for a few exemptions, such as airline pilots (federal law) and public safety workers (federal and state law).
Age discrimination claims can intersect with another protected class, such as sex or race. For example, “sex plus” claims describe a very real form of discrimination that older women workers often experience. While society generally views a man’s worth to remain the same, or even increase, as he ages, the opposite is true for women. In some lines of work, a woman must be and must appear youthful to get and keep a job. For example, in 1983, an anchorwoman named Christine Craft sued the television station that demoted her because she was “too old, too unattractive, and wouldn’t defer to men”. Ms. Craft’s experience is not unique. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, while 72 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 74 said they think people face age discrimination at work, only 57 percent of men in the same age range said so.
If your employer violates your rights under the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act, you are eligible to recover lost wages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. Under federal law, you are not allowed to collect punitive damages but if you can prove that the employer’s age discrimination was willful (knowing and intentional), you may recover “liquidated damages” which is double the amount of the lost wages claim.
What type of facts would lead a jury to award punitive damages in an age discrimination case? Consider these facts. Mr. X is a 66-year-old employee who worked for a large employer as a mid-level manager. Mr. X worked for the company for more than two decades. When the company laid off employees, Mr. X was one of the employees terminated. At trial, the following facts were established:
Facts like these could result in a punitive damages award. Punitive damages are meant to punish a wrongdoer and to deter them from similar wrongful conduct in the future. Punitive damages are awarded in exceptional cases, where there has been especially egregious or outrageous conduct.
The Vermont Employee Rights Group can help you achieve justice if you have been subjected to age discrimination. Call us at 833.365.2929 or fill out this online form for an initial consultation.