Representing Greenville, SC

(864) 233-4351

Horton Law Firm Blog Age Discrimination Lawsuits for South Carolina Employees

 | Age Discrimination Lawsuits for South Carolina Employees

What Is the EEOC’s Role in Age Discrimination Lawsuits?

Almost all employment discrimination and retaliation cases, including age discrimination lawsuits, start with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which covers race, sex, national origin, color, and religion; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), along with a handful of other federal laws. Many of my employment cases start with filing a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, which is required before a South Carolina employee can bring the discrimination or harassment claims in state or federal court. Those charges have to be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory or retaliatory acts by the company.

Normally, once the charge is filed and I get the company’s official written response, called the Position Statement, I know enough at that point to decide whether I want to take the case into the next stage of litigation. I’ll know what the company is alleging as its defenses to the Charge, as well as have a better idea of what my client’s potential damages (lost wages/benefits, emotional distress) will be. Once I decide to file the lawsuit (and the client agrees), I will request that the EEOC terminate its investigation and issue the Notice of Right to Sue, which is the document I need in order to move forward with filing the lawsuit. Once that Notice is issued, the employee has 90 days to file the lawsuit.

The EEOC Recently Brought Its Own Age Discrimination Lawsuit Against a GA Company

The EEOC has the option to bring age discrimination lawsuits itself on behalf of the employee. The chances of that happening, though, are extremely low. In 2023, for instance, the EEOC processed 82,055 new charges of discrimination (all kinds) and only filed a lawsuit in 143 of those charges. It’s a rare enough occurrence that the EEOC makes sure to highlight the new lawsuit filings in press relief format whenever it happens.

One such recent EEOC-filed case in Georgia provides some compelling facts, though, for what could be a very strong age discrimination lawsuit. The company fired a 78-year-old receptionist in February 2022 who had worked for the company for 14 years (and recognized as the employee of the year in January 2022). She had been briefly hospitalized, and upon her return, her manager badgered her with questions about how long she planned to work, whether she even needed to work, and wouldn’t she rather spend time with her family instead? When the receptionist insisted that she wanted to keep working, the company fired her the very next day (citing specifically to her recent hospitalization as the reason for their loss of trust in her ability to do the job) and replaced her with significantly younger employees.

These are just the allegations in the Complaint, but if true, that’s a great set of facts for an age case. It also sounds like she would have a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claim based on the retaliation for taking protected medical leave related to the hospitalization, but it’s not clear if that claim was brought as well.

It should be noted that the EEOC only brings a lawsuit if the EEOC has found “cause” (or merit) in the Charge, meaning that the EEOC is confident that the company violated the law. That “cause” finding results in a forced mediation (called “conciliation”) between the EEOC, the employee, and the company, and a settlement can’t be reached, then the EEOC has the right to file suit at that point.

Takeaways for South Carolina Employees

A few thoughts on what this case illustrates for South Carolina employees. First, the receptionist in this case got fired in February 2022, and the EEOC only just filed the age discrimination lawsuit last month, a full 24 months after her termination. If the EEOC plans to take a case, it will take forever for it to happen.

Second, the employee could have hired her own private employment attorney, which means that case could have been brought by her own attorney 18 months ago without waiting so long. She can still seek to recover the same types of damages as the EEOC would seek on her behalf. If she did so, however, she would be responsible for paying her own attorney, whether on a contingency fee or hourly fee, whereas the EEOC does not charge a fee. But overall, having an attorney through the EEOC process and in litigation can help move the case forward much more quickly than an employee on his or her own. Clients should still prepare for the long haul regardless, because nothing about the EEOC process or litigation, whether with an attorney or not, is fast.

Finally, if you believe that you’ve been discriminated against based on your age or any other protected category, you should not delay in contacting a South Carolina employment discrimination lawyer for a fact-specific consultation. Employment cases can be very difficult to prove and terminations are not automatically illegal. The facts matter.

Still Have Questions? The best way we can serve you is by starting a conversation.

Speak to an Attorney