How Do I Prove an Age Discrimination Lawsuit in Florida?

You have options under both federal and state law

By Judy Malmon, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on October 3, 2023

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If you’ve been laid off or given a demotion as part of a “reorganization” that seems to have targeted older employees, you may have an age discrimination claim under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), as well as state age discrimination laws.

But be forewarned: age-based discrimination claims can be challenging.

Employers Cannot Retaliate or Discriminate Against Employees

Plenty of terminations and layoffs occur under circumstances that seem unfair, unethical, or uncaring.

However, since almost all employees hold their jobs subject to at-will employment, an employer can make hiring, firing, or other employment decisions for almost any reason they want—just not for an illegal one.

Unlawful bases for an employment action are either:

The ADEA provides federal protection against discriminatory action in employment—whether in hiring, firing, or during the course of employment—for individuals age 40 and older. It applies to all employers with 20 or more employees and is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

State anti-discrimination laws also prohibit employment discrimination based on age, as well as a number of other protected classes. States that have anti-discrimination laws (and not all do) may provide broader or more robust legal protections than the federal baseline.

For example, the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) does not specify an age to which it applies, though case law says that Florida courts will follow ADEA analysis. But Florida’s law applies to employers with 15 or more employees (as opposed to the ADEA’s 20-employee threshold) and is administered through the Florida Department of Human Rights (FDHR). 

Proving Your Age Discrimination Claim in Court

Under both federal law and state law, discrimination based on age can be particularly difficult to prove. While complaints of age discrimination have been on the rise in recent years, it has become more difficult to prevail in court.

In 2009, the Supreme Court determined that the ADEA requires showing that the sole motivating reason for an adverse employment decision was discriminatory. This can be especially difficult for workers because cutting costs is considered an acceptable basis for letting someone go.

Older workers, who typically have worked longer and earn higher salaries, tend to cost more than younger workers. Where someone has been let go or demoted based on both age and cost-cutting, age would not have been the sole reason, and therefore a judge would not find a violation of the ADEA.

The plaintiff can only prevail by showing that the legitimate reason offered by the employer is a pretext for a decision based solely on age.

Filing a Discrimination Charge with a Government Agency

Even though such litigated outcomes do not appear to favor plaintiffs, the administrative process may nonetheless afford some relief.

Few cases actually make it to court, as the first step in a claim is to exhaust administrative remedies. You can file your initial complaint with the EEOC or FDHR. You don’t need a lawyer to get this process started (though it’s very helpful to have knowledgeable counsel), and there are strict time limits for filing—300 days from the date of adverse action for EEOC and 365 days for FDHR. Unlike other discrimination complaints to the EEOC, it’s not necessary to receive a Right to Sue letter from the agency before you can file a lawsuit in federal or state court. However, it is necessary to have filed a complaint.

Once this process has begun, the agency will notify your former employer and investigate the claim. During this time, it can be opportune to pursue settlement negotiations, as most employers would prefer to avoid litigation. Additionally, you’re likely to achieve a better result financially, and you’ll be in a better position to seek another job.

Some Practical Tips When Pursuing an Age Discrimination Claim

Here are some pointers to keep in mind if you suspect you’ve been discriminated against because of your age and are considering legal action:

Severance Agreements

Before you sign a severance agreement, talk to an employment attorney. In most cases, you have 21 days from the date of termination to sign an offered severance agreement and seven days to revoke an agreement after signing.

There are many important issues to be negotiated in this agreement, and by signing too quickly, you may be giving up your right to sue for discrimination.

Document Everything

Keep a written record of all interactions, statements, conditions, etc., that lead you to believe that you’re being discriminated against. Include dates and names.

Future Employment

Be prudent in discussing your age-related claim when seeking your next employment opportunity, as prospective employers may be uneasy about someone with a history of suing.

Find an Experienced Discrimination Attorney

To get an assessment of your specific circumstances and to answer your questions, speak with an employment lawyer in your area who has experience with age discrimination cases. 

A law firm or age discrimination lawyer can identify the different types of discrimination claims you may have under federal and state law and help you decide if you have a case. For more background about this important area of law, see our overviews on employment law, wrongful termination, and discrimination.

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