The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 was established as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in the workplace based on color, race, religion, gender, and national origin. Age discrimination was not yet included at the time, but a study conducted by the US Labor Department in 1967 revealed its prevalence, prompting Congress to enact the ADEA. The act provided protection for employees aged 40 to 65 and has since been updated as needed.
This article chronicles the key changes made to the ADEA since its inception. In 1978, the enforcement of the ADEA was transferred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by President Jimmy Carter, and protection was extended to employees up to the age of 70. Nine years later, the age ceiling was eliminated to protect older workers from discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 revised the primary civil rights law, including the ADEA, and made it more difficult for plaintiffs to win age discrimination cases. However, in 1996, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of age discrimination victims in the case of O’Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp.
In 2002, the EEOC received a record-high of almost 20,000 age discrimination complaints, largely due to the aging workforce and economic slowdown. The following year, the EEOC reached the largest settlement in history for an age discrimination case, awarding $250 million in back pay to 1,700 public safety officers in California. Despite changes made over the past 40 years, not all have been beneficial for age discrimination victims. Further changes are expected to adapt to the evolving society.