What Are “Reasonable Factors Other Than Age” in Age Discrimination Claims?
Age discrimination in the employment context is quickly becoming one of the defining civil rights issues of our time. This is partially due to the rapid rate at which the American population is aging but also due to the fact that many workers are remaining in the workforce longer than in previous decades. While age discrimination generally is unlawful, there is an exception to the law in cases where the negative impact on older workers is based on “reasonable factors other than age.” However, whether an employment practice is based on reasonable factors other than age is highly subjective, and courts consider this defense on a case-by-case basis. A Richmond age discrimination attorney can help you determine whether the reasonable factors other than age defense applies in your case.
Overview of Age Discrimination Law
The federal law prohibiting age discrimination is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The ADEA applies to individuals who are aged 40 years and over and to employers with at least 20 employees, labor organizations with at least 25 members, employment agencies, and federal, state, and local governments.
The Act makes it unlawful to:
- Fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age;
- Limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s age; or
- Reduce the wage rate of any employee in order to comply with this chapter.
The ADEA covers both intentional discrimination against older workers (known as “disparate treatment”) and practices that, while facially neutral, have a disproportionately negative impact on older works (known as “disparate impact”).
Exceptions to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
Like most civil rights laws, there are a few narrow exceptions to the ADEA (although these exceptions are broader than those in anti-discrimination laws based on, for example, race, color, or national origin).
It is not unlawful for an employer, employment agency, or labor organization:
- To take any action otherwise prohibited where age is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business, or where the differentiation is based on reasonable factors other than age
- To observe the terms of a bona fide seniority system
- To require the involuntary retirement of executives and upper management at age 65
Of these three exceptions, the first — actions based on reasonable factors other than age — is the most open to interpretation and, as a consequence, a frequent basis for age discrimination litigation. To explore your options for pursuing a claim for age discrimination, please contact a Richmond age discrimination attorney.
Reasonable Factors Other Than Age
In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released an official rule stating its interpretation of the “reasonable factors other than age” provision of the ADEA. That rule, in turn, is based on the Supreme Court’s 2008 opinion in Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, which held that the employer — not the employee — bears the burden of proving that an employment practice that has discriminatory effects on older workers is based on reasonable factors other than age. The guidance, therefore, applies to claims of age discrimination based on “disparate impact.”
Relation to a Legitimate Business Purpose
According to the EEOC rule, a reasonable factor other than age is “a non-age factor that is objectively reasonable when viewed from the position of a prudent employer mindful of its responsibilities under the ADEA under like circumstances.” To establish the reasonable factor other than age defense, an employer must show that the employment practice was both reasonably designed to further a legitimate business purpose and administered in a way that reasonably achieves that purpose in light of the particular facts and circumstances.
Factors to Consider
When determining whether a practice is based on a reasonable factor other than age, the EEOC considers:
- The extent to which the factor is related to the employer’s stated business purpose
- The extent to which the employer defined the factor accurately and applied the factor fairly and accurately, including the extent to which managers and supervisors were given guidance or training about how to apply the factor and avoid discrimination
- The extent to which the employer limited supervisors’ discretion to assess employees subjectively, particularly where the criteria that the supervisors were asked to evaluate are known to be subject to negative age-based stereotypes
- The extent to which the employer assessed the adverse impact of its employment practice on older workers
- The degree of the harm to individuals within the protected age group in terms of both the extent of the injury and the numbers of persons adversely affected, and the extent to which the employer took steps to reduce the harm in light of the burden of undertaking such steps
No single factor is dispositive in an analysis of whether a practice is based on a reasonable factor other than age; rather, the courts look to the totality of the circumstances.
Contact a Richmond Age Discrimination Attorney to Pursue or Defend an Age Discrimination Claim
Age discrimination claims are complex, and the reasonable factors other than age exception to the ADEA allows employers a defense in some situations. If you believe you were discriminated against at work because of your age or you wish to raise the reasonable factors other than age defense in a lawsuit, you should speak to an experienced attorney. For more information, please contact a Richmond age discrimination attorney at Pierce / Jewett by calling 804-502-2320 or using our online contact form.