Age Discrimination in Employment Act

What is the ADEA? 

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against employees and applicants who are 40 years of age or older.  It does not protect workers under the age of 40.   However there are some exceptions.

Who does the ADEA cover?

In Rhode Island the ADEA covers employers with 4 or more workers. 

More specifically, this is defined as an employer who has 4 or more employees on each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year. 

Can you favor older works?

Yes.  In 2004, the United States Supreme Court found that employers may discriminate against workers over the age of 40 in favor of older employees.  See General Dynamics Land Systems v. Cline, 540 U.S. 581 (2004).  In General Dynamics, the Court found that the employer could favor employees over the age of 50 at the expense of employees in their 40s. 

Does unintentional discrimination violate the ADEA?

Maybe.  In Smith v. City of Jackson, the Court found that plaintiff could raise disparate impact claims of age discrimination if they can point to a specific, seemingly neutral, practice.  However, in these cases an employer is permitted to point to a “reasonable factor other than age” that led to the discrimination.  An example of a reasonable factor other than age could be seniority. 

What happens if an employer violates the ADEA? 

If an employer violates the ADEA, they could be required to do any of the following:

  • Pay the employee al wages benefits and other forms of compensation lost as a result of the discrimination.
  • Reinstating or promoting the worker. 
  • Pay for future earnings lost
  • Pay liquidated damages equal to all wages, benefits and other compensation owed the employee at time of trial
  • Pay the employee’s court and attorney’s fees

As the Baby Boomer Generation ages, the ADEA will continue to gain importance.  As of 2011, 55% of the American work force was over the age of 40. See Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Therefore, more than half of the American work force is covered by the ADEA. 

Employers and HR managers who do not understand the ADEA and its significance do so at their own risk.  Before firing, hiring, changing benefits, job assignments or making an decision that significantly affect employment, employers should ensure that they have complied with the ADEA.  This may require consulting an employment attorney. 


Other Important