The main law in place to prevent employers from discriminating against employees because of their age is the Discrimination in Employment Act 1967 (ADEA). If successful in an ADEA lawsuit, a plaintiff can recover several types of damages, as illustrated by a recent age discrimination case. But before we get to that case, let’s take a look at ADEA.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act 1967
ADEA is a federal law that protects employees against age discrimination in the workplace. But this does not apply to everyone. The employee concerned must be aged 40 or over and work for an employer with 20 or more employees. But ADEA’s mandates apply to all public employers, regardless of size.
Some jurisdictions, such as Washington, DC, have their own age discrimination laws. These often go further than ADEA and apply to small employers and/or young employees. However, for many employees experiencing age discrimination, ADEA will be their main source of legal recourse.
Canada v. Old Dominion Brush Company, Inc.
According to his complaint, Warren Cannada (Cannada) began working for Old Dominion Brush Company, Inc. (ODB) in August 1988. In 2017, Alamo Group Inc. (Alamo) purchased ODB and made it its subsidiary.
When Alamo purchased ODB, Cannada worked as a welding supervisor. Cannada claims that until Alamo purchased ODB, it had a clean disciplinary record, with no criticism for performance issues or rule violations. Still, Cannada was fired on November 4, 2019.
Cannada says he was fired for his age, but ODB says there were a variety of performance issues to justify his dismissal. Some of these included Cannada which would not:
- Wear appropriate safety equipment at work.
- Report crane inspections.
- Complete a special spreadsheet containing Canada Department worker productivity records.
- Use “best practices” when dealing with an employee who has been told to be more productive.
- Accompanying an injured employee who sought medical attention for a workplace injury.
- Follow ODB hiring practices with respect to tracking reference checks.
At the time of his dismissal, Cannada was over 40 years old. In June 2020, he filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). With the EEOC unable to resolve its complaint to its satisfaction, Cannada filed suit in December 2021.
After surviving a motion for summary judgment, the case went to trial and in early March 2022, a jury found that the ODB fired Cannada due to her age and awarded her $113,283.12 in damages – compensatory interest for salary arrears. However, the jury did not believe that the ODB’s age discrimination was “intentional”.
After the trial, Canada’s attorney filed a motion to recover initial wages, interest, and attorneys’ fees and expenses. The court granted most of that motion, but reduced the amount of the initial payment requested. The court awarded Canada and its attorneys $178,412.25 for attorneys’ fees, $5,611.37 for costs, and $44,677.83 for initial payment. The court also agreed to award pre-judgment and post-judgment interest.
Canada and its lawyers recovered a lot, but not everything was potentially recoverable in an ADEA case.
What a Complainant Can Recover After Winning an ADEA Discrimination Case
A plaintiff who successfully sues an employer for age discrimination under ADEA can potentially recover all of the following:
- Salary arrears
- Lost Benefits
- Equitable relief (including initial payment)
- Lawyer’s fees and expenses
Wage arrears means damages equal to what the plaintiff would have earned if the wrongful act of the employer had never taken place. It is calculated by taking the plaintiff’s salary from the time of the wrongful act (such as a dismissal) until the day the plaintiff wins at trial. But due to the plaintiff’s obligation to mitigate damages, any back pay could be reduced if the plaintiff finds a new job after being made redundant.
Lost benefits can refer to things like lost pension and health insurance payments.
Liquidated damages are damages equal to back wages and lost benefits. The liquidated damages have the effect of doubling the plaintiff’s damages. The reason for liquidated damages is that ADEA does not allow plaintiffs to recover punitive damages. But if an employer’s discrimination is “willful,” they can get damages instead. Willful means that the employer knew or showed reckless recklessness as to whether his behavior towards the plaintiff was unlawful.
Equitable relief is a legal remedy that tells someone to do something (or not to do something). In an employment case, a court ordering a wrongfully terminated employee to return to his or her job would be a form of equitable relief. Usually fair help does not involve money, but sometimes it can, as is the case with the initial payment.
The initial payment is intended to compensate a worker because he cannot get his old job back and continues to suffer financially even after winning the lawsuit. It is usually calculated from the time the plaintiff wins at trial until a later time determined by the court. A court may award an upfront payment because reinstatement is not possible and the claimant is having difficulty finding new employment through no fault of their own.
Attorney’s fees and costs are the expenses incurred by the plaintiff’s attorney to take on the plaintiff’s case and the compensation for the attorney’s services. Attorney fees can be calculated by multiplying the number of hours worked on the case by the attorney’s hourly rate. Costs are the expenses incurred by the plaintiff’s attorney in litigation. This can include things like court filing fees, postage and travel costs.
As for interest, two types can be awarded by a court. First, there is prejudgment interest. It is interest accrued on a sum of money from the moment it becomes clear that the plaintiff is entitled to it until the moment the court renders its judgment.
Second, there is post-judgment interest, which is interest that applies from the time the court enters judgment until the plaintiff actually receives the money from the defendant. The purpose of both types of interest is to compensate a plaintiff for being deprived of money that was rightfully his.
One thing to keep in mind is that most successful plaintiffs will not recover all of these damages in one case. But a plaintiff who wins at trial will often get at least a refund of lost wages and benefits (plus interest) plus attorneys’ fees and costs.
The main law prohibiting age discrimination in the workplace is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act 1967. If an employer is found to have violated this law, an aggrieved employee has several types of damages they can potentially recover, including monetary damages and equitable relief. .