Generally, discriminating on the basis of age in the workplace is illegal. Sometimes when employers are down-sizing, they lay people off by offering "golden handshakes", which are special packages to employees who agree to take early retirement. This is not age discrimination. However, if it is being done for the purpose of getting rid of older workers just because of their age, and if it can be shown that there is a real discriminatory motive, then it’s illegal.
Despite equal employment opportunity laws, some employers prefer younger employees over older workers. In most cases, younger workers are less expensive, may be easier to intimidate, less knowledgeable about their workplace rights, and cheaper to insure.
In the case of corporate downsizing and layoffs, it is not always easy to tell whether a particular employee was chosen for termination based on age discrimination. Or, when an early retirement incentive is offered, it may be unclear whether it is a legitimate business practice or a pretext to get rid of older employees. In some cases, so-called "reorganizations" have resulted in older, highly paid workers being replaced by younger, cheaper employees. When no meaningful functional changes are made during a reorganization, it may be a mere pretext for age discrimination. In some such cases, courts have awarded punitive damages.
Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is a federal law that regulates and establishes oversight for private industry pension plans, retirement plans, profit-sharing plans and health insurance coverage by establishing rules and minimum standards that are meant to protect plan participants. ERISA only governs private (non-government) employers with 25 or more employees. ERISA does not mandate the creation of any these plans; it only sets the standards for those that choose to establish them. ERISA was amended by the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) in 1985 to include provisions for workers whose established health insurance coverage is affected by their employment situation. And a more recent amendment in 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), protects the transferability and security of health care coverage for workers, especially when there is a pre-existing condition involved.
We handle the full range of employee benefits issues, including class actions based on employer securities in retirement plans, class action benefit claims, and breach of fiduciary duty class actions.