THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE DECEMBER, 2005 ISSUE OF MID-MISSOURI MATURE LIVING.
It’s a young person’s world – or so the young people think, anyway. Members of the senior community have always been vulnerable to discrimination on the basis of age. And although many may not know it, help is at hand.
The federal government has enacted various laws which prohibit discrimination based upon age in a number of different areas. These range from the granting of credit to the availability of housing and other federally-assisted programs. These statutes represent a valuable body of law which, although complex, can enable the elderly to protect their rights.
So what should you do if you suspect that you have been the victim of age discrimination? There are a number of different options that you may pursue. Many of the anti-discrimination statutes have placed the responsibility for enforcement on federal agencies. For example, in employment-related matters – probably the most common area of complaint – an aggrieved party can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Their website contains much useful information about how to file claims and related issues: www.eeoc.gov/types/age.html. In parallel with the EEOC, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) works to protect your interests under the Missouri Human Rights Act, as opposed to federal legislation. The choice to pursue an action under state or federal law may depend on a number of factors, such as the size of the employer and the deadline for filing complaints, since these requirements differ depending upon which law the action is based upon. The MCHR and EEOC work closely together, and should be able to advise you what choices are available to you, depending upon your circumstances. You should be aware that there are occasions when age discrimination is allowed. For example, a statutory exemption applies to firefighters and the police force, on the grounds of public safety. Furthermore there are certain jobs which by definition can only be performed by people of a certain age. For example, a position as a child actor cannot be filled by someone eligible for Medicare!
For non employment-related matters, the Missouri Attorney General’s office is also a strong supporter of the rights of seniors, and may also be able to provide assistance in certain situations. A private elder law attorney will also be able to advise you as to your options and help you decide how best to seek redress.
A word of caution, however. Employers and other parties against whom discrimination suits are commonly brought are entitled to make decisions for any reason not prohibited by law. This means that the onus is on the complainant to prove that a particular decision was based upon illegal discrimination. This can often be very difficult, as evidence is often simply circumstantial, and may often not be sufficient to meet the burden of proof. It is important, therefore, to keep copies of all records, correspondence, and other documentation relating to the alleged discrimination. Litigation can be expensive, time-consuming, and stressful, and so should not be embarked upon unless you are confident that you have at least a reasonably strong case. An experienced attorney will be best able to advise you as to your chances. As mentioned above, deadlines exist for these types of claims, and once they have expired you may no longer be eligible to seek redress, so it is not advisable to wait too long before taking action. If you suspect that you have been a victim of age discrimination you should consult an attorney or contact one of the agencies listed above and investigate your options.
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