While proving age discrimination under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a rocky road, Massachusetts law paves the way for many wronged employees. Under the federal ADEA, employees over the age of 40 who are fired, or who suffer some other adverse employment action, must prove that their age was the only factor motivating their mistreatment. In other words, an employer can get the discrimination charge thrown out if it can prove that it relied on any non-discriminatory reason for the mistreatment other than age.
For example, if an older employee with an imperfect attendance record believes she was fired because of her age, an employer may successfully argue that the she was fired because of poor attendance – not because of age. If the court believes that bad attendance played some part in the decision, the employer wins.
However, last year the First Circuit Court of Appeals opened a new avenue of recourse to Massachusetts employees who believe they are the victims of age discrimination. In Diaz v. Jiten Hotel Management, the court interpreted the state’s anti-discrimination statute to include the “mixed motive” framework.
Under this framework, an employee can win his or her case by proving that age was at least one factor motivating the employer’s adverse action. So even if the employer has some other non-discriminatory reason for the action, such as frequent absences, the employee can prevail by showing that age factored into the decision. The more lenient law opens a legal avenue for all aging employees in Massachusetts.
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