Back in 1994, a popular singer named Aaliyah released a music album entitled “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” The title was a subtle reference to the singer’s youth, as she was only 15. Today, lots of people embracing this same mindset come from the opposite side of the age spectrum. These older individuals recognize that their age does not define them, and they seek employment where they are judged by the merits of their work, not solely by “that number.” With the passage of a new law, older workers age 70+ now have more protections than even against age discrimination in this state. If you think you’ve been denied a promotion, denied employment, or otherwise harmed because of your age, get in touch with an experienced New Jersey age discrimination lawyer to discuss your legal options.
Here in New Jersey, the average life expectancy is 80.7 years, making the Garden State the ninth highest-ranking state in that category. In certain areas of North Jersey, it’s higher still, with some Bergen County communities along the Hudson River averaging nearly 87 years!
The point is, people are living longer… and they are also working longer. That means that many people in their 70s find themselves continuing to pursue their careers instead of retiring. For a long time, however, they faced a huge obstacle in the form of age discrimination that was often completely legal in this state. With a new bill (Assembly Bill 681) signed into law by the governor earlier this month, much of that has now changed.
This new law does significant good in protecting two distinct groups of people. One is those who have the health, the vitality, and the desire to continue working past age 70 to achieve a greater sense of personal fulfillment. The other is those who need to keep working past age 70 to meet their financial obligations of daily living, or at least to continue living independently.
Whether you are in the former group or the latter, and whether your employer is a private one or a public one, you may potentially reap benefits from this new law. Within the private sector, the old law allowed employers to refuse to hire or refuse to promote someone who was 70+ based solely upon that worker’s age. Effective as of Oct. 5, 2021, those practices now constitute illegal age discrimination in violation of the Law Against Discrimination.
The law also helps public employees as it puts into place “a higher standard for a government employer in terms of setting a mandatory retirement age.” The law additionally made illegal the practice by colleges and universities of forcing their tenured employees to retire upon reaching the age of 70.
Furthermore, the new law enhances the arsenal of tools available to workers harmed by age discrimination. As we pointed out above, many practices regarding age 70+ employees were not illegal under the old law. Even those that were illegal merely permitted you to seek reinstatement to your old job and back pay. Now that the new bill has taken effect, a 70+ worker harmed by impermissible age discrimination can seek, and potentially obtain, the full range of damages, including reinstatement, back pay, attorneys’ fees, litigation costs, and maybe even punitive damages.
What You Need for an Award of Punitive Damages in Your Age Discrimination Case
Punitive damages can be a very critical component of certain LAD age discrimination cases. The proof that you need, in order to obtain an award of punitive damages, is higher than the evidence required simply to obtain a judgment in your favor. To get punitive damages in your LAD case, you need to demonstrate to the jury not just that the harm you suffered was the defendant’s fault, but also that the defendant’s “conduct was malicious” or that the defendant “acted in wanton and willful disregard” of your rights. If the defendant is your employer, you need proof that the discrimination was “especially egregious” and that at least one of the employer’s “‘upper management’ employees actually participated in, or was willfully indifferent to, the wrongful conduct.”
Older workers, just like all other workers, want to be judged based upon the work they produce, not the date of birth listed in their HR files. If you’ve been treated adversely on the job because of your age, whether that’s your young age or advanced age, your employer may have violated the LAD and you may be entitled to compensation. Get in touch with the skilled New Jersey age discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to learn more about how you can protect your rights. Our helpful attorneys have spent many years taking on — and winning — age discrimination cases, and we are ready to get to work for you. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.