Key point 8-09. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employers with 20 or more employees, and engaged in interstate commerce, from discriminating in any employment decision on the basis of the age of an employee or applicant for employment who is 40 years of age or older. The Act does not exempt religious organizations. Many states have similar laws that often apply to employers having fewer than 20 employees.
* A federal appeals court ruled that a church school had not violated a federal age discrimination law in its treatment of a custodian. The custodian complained that over a period of about five years he was subjected to several adverse employment actions as a result of his age. As examples, he asserted that he was harassed and criticized by his supervisor because of his age; he was unfairly sent home and docked pay on two occasions; he was denied overtime opportunities that went to younger employees; he was transferred to a less desirable shift; and was laid off with others on his new shift. The custodian claimed that these actions amounted to discrimination in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act
The court noted that Under the ADEA, it is “unlawful for an employer to … discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.” The court concluded that the school had “legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons” for each of its actions involving the custodian. First, he was not singled out when he was terminated, but rather was laid off as part of the school’s decision to “outsource” the entire custodial department to save money. Six out of the eight employees discharged were less than 40 years old. Second, the custodian had been sent home early from work as part of his supervisor’s efforts to discipline or motivate him after he performed unsatisfactorily on two occasions. Third, the custodian’s loss of overtime was attributable to the regular seasonal decrease in demand for custodial overtime work due to school being out of session during the summer months, and gym classes being held outside (leaving the gymnasium largely unused) during early Fall.
Application. This case illustrates that age discrimination requires proof that age was the basis for an adverse employment decision. An employer that dismisses an employee who is 40 years of age or older will not be guilty of age discrimination if it can prove a nondiscriminatory basis for its action. In this case, the court concluded that the school established that its actions involving the custodian were all based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons dealing with the performance of his duties as well as cost-cutting decisions by the school. Abraham v. Abington Friends School, 2006 WL 3793380 (3rd Cir. 2006).