Age Discrimination FAQ

Can an employer set age limits on a position?

An employer or company can set minimum age limits on jobs where required by law; for example, if a position requires serving alcohol, an employer can preclude minors from the position.

An employer can also put a maximum age limit on a position only if the age limit is a “bona fide occupational qualification”.

For age to be a bona fide occupational qualification, the employer must show that age is related to an essential job duty and is necessary for operation of the business. For example, mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots are a bona fide occupational qualification, since a pilot who is older the FAA’s mandatory retirement age would be ineligible to fly planes for an employer.

If my employer offers a better position or benefits to an older co-worker, is that age discrimination?

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act only protects workers over the age of 40. The ADEA does not expressly prohibit employers from favoring or offering better benefits to an older worker over a younger worker, even if the younger worker is also over the age of 40.

However, the Iowa Civil Rights Act more broadly prohibits unfair or discriminatory practices by an employer against an employee because of the employee’s age. Therefore, discriminating against a younger worker on the basis of age (unless age is a bona fide occupational qualification) may constitute age discrimination under state law.

Proving age discrimination against younger workers in favor of older workers can difficult since older workers will tend to have greater education, training, and experience than younger workers and employers may have a legitimate basis for granting positions or better benefits to the more skilled and experienced older worker.

How do I prove I have been discriminated against by an employer or prospective employer on account of my age?

To prove that you have been the target of age discrimination by an employer or prospective employer, you will first need proof that you have been subjected to some form of adverse employment action, such as:

  • Not being hired for a position
  • Not being promoted
  • Not receiving pay raises
  • Having your pay reduced
  • Being terminated, demoted, transferred, or reassigned to a less-desirable position

You must also have evidence that the adverse employment action you suffered was motivated on account of your age.

It is rare that a person subjected to age discrimination will have direct evidence that age was a motivating factor in the adverse employment action, such as written or oral statements from the employer that their decision was based on account of the employee’s age.

Instead, you will most likely have to rely on circumstantial evidence that infers a discriminatory motivation, such as being passed over for a position or promotion in favor of a younger, less qualified applicant, layoffs that disproportionately target older workers, or a hostile work environment based upon age.

Can a company commit age discrimination even before I have been hired?

Yes. A prospective employer can commit age discrimination during the interview and hiring process. For example, a prospective employer is not allowed to ask you your age during an interview.

Instead, if age is a bona fide occupational qualification, the employer is merely allowed to ask if you meet the qualifications.

Prospective employers can also try to discourage older workers from applying for a position through the listed requirements in the job posting. And, if an employer hires a younger candidate over an older candidate based entirely or in part on the candidates’ ages, that may constitute age discrimination.

What are some examples of age discrimination?

Age discrimination can occur when an employer undertakes an adverse employment action on the basis of an employee’s age, such as failing to hire or promote an employee, denying a raise, or terminating, demoting, or transferring an employee to a less-desirable position.

Age discrimination can also occur when an employer creates or allows a hostile work environment on the basis of age. A hostile work environment can be created by offensive age-based comments, jokes, gestures, or other visual imagery.

A hostile work environment can be created by an employer’s owners or manager, or can also be created by supervisors, fellow employees, and even customers. When an employer is aware that a hostile work environment exists and the employer takes no action to remedy the situation, the employer could be guilty of discrimination.

Do age discrimination laws cover all employers?

Federal age discrimination laws by their terms apply to employers with a minimum number of employees along with governmental employers. However, state law applies to all employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations with at least four non-family member employees. As a result, most employers are covered under state age discrimination laws, while many employers are covered both under state law and federal age discrimination law.

When do I have to file a claim for age discrimination?

In Iowa, you have 300 days from the date of the discriminatory incident (or latest discriminatory incident in an ongoing, continuous pattern of discrimination) to file a claim with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

You also have 300 days to file a claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you wish to pursue a legal claim under federal law as well.

You must file a claim with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and the EEOC if you wish to file a lawsuit to pursue claims under the Iowa Civil Rights Act or the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. You must receive a “right-to-sue” letter from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and/or the EEOC before you can file a lawsuit.

If you fail to timely file your claim with the Iowa Civil Rights Commissions and/or EEOC or those agencies decline to issue you a right-to-sue letter, you cannot file an age discrimination lawsuit. You also have 90 days from the date a right-to-sue letter is issued to file a lawsuit claiming age discrimination.