The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): A Legal Overview

Source: Jody Feder, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division, September 5, 2008

This report provides an overview of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and discusses current legal and legislative developments. The ADEA, which prohibits employment discrimination against persons over the age of 40, was enacted “to promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age; to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment; [and] to help employers and workers find ways of meeting problems arising from the impact of age on employment.”

The ADEA, which applies to employers, labor organizations, and employment agencies, makes it unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or 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 statute not only applies to hiring, discharge, and promotion, but also prohibits discrimination in employee benefit plans such as health coverage and pensions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing the provisions of the ADEA.

In addition, the Supreme Court recently handed down a series of decisions involving the ADEA during its 2007-2008 term, including Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn; Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki; Gomez-Perez v. Potter; Kentucky Retirement Systems v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. Each of these cases is discussed below.

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