Two Minnesota laws and one federal law prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of age: The Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Minnesota Retirement Law and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination against applicants and employees who are at least 18 years old, unless age is a bona fide occupational qualification for the job in question. The Minnesota Retirement Law applies to all private employers and the Human Rights Act applies to all employers, both public and private. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, it is unlawful to:

  • Refuse to hire or to maintain a system of employment that unreasonably excludes a person seeking employment because of age, unless based on a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ).
  • Discharge or discriminate against a person with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities, or privileges of employment.
  • Require or request a person to furnish information that pertains to age, or require or request a person to undergo a physical examination, unless the exam is to determine fitness for employment.
  • Seek and obtain age-related information for purposes of making a job decision, information from any source, unless for the purpose of compliance with any rule, regulation, or law of the United States or of the state that require the information.
  • Print or publish a notice or advertisement.

The Minnesota Retirement Law prohibits mandatory retirement for individuals under the age of 70. Minn Stat. § 181.81. However, the Law provides an exception for employees covered under federal law, such as the ADEA, which prohibits mandatory retirement regardless of age, except in certain limited circumstances.

Under the Federal ADEA, employers may not discriminate against employees in hiring, firing, or other terms and conditions of employment if they are 40 years of age or older. The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees and prohibits age discrimination against employees 40 years of age or older. A person who is unlawfully discriminated against because of age is entitled to damages, including loss of income, emotional distress, and attorney’s fees. Additionally, a judge may double the damage award under Federal law or even award triple damages under state law.

In general, age discrimination cases are fairly difficult to prove. To prevail, an employee must show that adverse action was taken because of age. Adverse action can mean a variety of different things including termination, passing over the employee for a promotion because of their age, lack of or a reduced raise or cost of living adjustment, based on age, or any other action that would be considered negative in the workplace when age was considered a criteria. Assignment of certain clients or leads might also constitute adverse action.

Sometimes, adverse action can be shown by direct evidence of differential treatment based upon age. For example, an employer might state that “you are too old”, or, “we’d prefer to see someone younger start this job.” Such overt statements however, are rare and rarely made in public and/or admitted to. Sometimes the discrimination might be attributed to someone else with statements such as “The client would like to see a fresher face on this one”, or “We need someone that can connect with a younger market.”

In most cases, however, direct proof is not readily available and only circumstantial evidence exists. Merely replacing an older employee with a younger person does not establish age discrimination. Similarly, it is not necessarily illegal to replace an older employee with a high salary with a younger person earning a lower salary. An employer is liable for age discrimination only if the employee is able to prove that there was an intentional action because of age.

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