NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Age-Discrimination Laws Put Older Job Seekers at Risk

August 12, 2002

Companies are well aware that they could be sued for age-discrimination if they fire older workers. And that acts as a powerful disincentive to hiring them in the first place.

  • Age suits are now the fastest-growing category of discrimination complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- and they are also the most expensive.
  • The median court award in age-discrimination suits -- a majority of them brought by highly paid white males -- is $269,000.
  • That compares with $121,000 in race cases and just $100,000 is sex discrimination suits.
  • In a sample of age-discrimination suits studied by U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner, plaintiffs won just 4 percent charging discrimination in hiring -- compared to 18 percent of cases involving wrongful firing because of age.

In the first decade after passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, unemployment among would-be workers 55 and older rose from 2.5 percent to 4.6 percent. Today, labor force participation among males ages 55 and above is 16 percentage points lower than in was before age-discrimination laws were introduced.

The lesson is that if the law makes it risky for employers to hire older applicants, firms will hire fewer of them.

Source: Ira Carnahan, "Removing the Scarlet A," Forbes, August 12, 2000.

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