Fighting Age Discrimination Against Educators
Across the U.S., veteran educators are facing a growing problem—age discrimination.
by John Rosales
Last year, Tempe Elementary School District No. 3 in Tucson, Arizona, discriminated against employees on the basis of age when it applied an early retirement incentive plan that granted greater economic benefits to younger employees based on their age.
In North Carolina, a public school teacher was denied a promotion to assistant principal because of her age. She eventually won a $25,000 settlement after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit.
In 2009, EEOC filed an amicus brief in a case from Oklahoma City, successfully arguing that the trial court was wrong to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit by an older educator who had been demoted because of her age.
The National Education Association denounces blatant age discrimination as school superintendents and administrators target more and more veteran educators for dismissal. In many cases, school officials use the guise of “improvement plans” to harass veteran educators, without taking into account the countless contributions they have made to public education.
Educators who have been discriminated against because of their age can find solace and legal protection in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, which protects teachers age 40 and over against age discrimination. Under this act, age may not be the sole factor when a school district terminates a teacher. If a teacher charges a school district with age discrimination, the school district has the burden to show that some factor other than age influenced its decision.
This law, administered by the EEOC, helps to protect this group of educators who either apply for a position or are already employed. In accordance with ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his or her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment. This includes, but is not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training. The Older Workers Benefit Protections Act amended several sections of the ADEA.
The lawsuit by the EEOC against Tempe Elementary School District alleges that the school district maintained an early retirement incentive plan that was unlawful. Specifically, the EEOC charges that the school district’s plan is discriminatory because it grants more favorable benefits to younger employees. Under the school district’s retirement plan, employees are reimbursed for accumulated leave based on their age at retirement, with those retiring at a younger age being treated more favorably than those who retire after age 60.
“Early retirement incentive plans which discriminate on their face based upon age are illegal and need to be changed,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “People in their ‘60s’ should not be penalized merely because they want to continue working.”
Rayford Irvin, district director of EEOC’s Phoenix district office, said in a statement that, “with more people working longer and delaying retirement, we will actively protect the rights of people over 40 to be free from this type of discrimination.”
The EEOC filed the lawsuit after exhausting its conciliation efforts to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement. The agency is seeking monetary relief including the amount of money a retiree should have received for the discrimination with prejudgment interest. The commission is also seeking an injunction prohibiting future discri-mination to prevent the school district from engaging in further practices that discriminate on the basis of age.
The main body of employment discrimination laws consists of federal and state statutes. Some state constitutions may provide additional protection when the employer is a governmental body or the government has taken significant steps to foster the discriminatory practice of the employer.
If you have been subjected to improper treatment at your school based on your age, be sure to keep detailed records to document the treatment. Read more about age discrimination laws.