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NOVA Legal Beat: Damages for Age Discrimination?

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Mathew B. Tully of Tully Rinckey PLLC, an Arlington firm that specializes in federal employment and labor law, security clearance proceedings, and military law.

Q. Before firing me, my supervisor used to tease me about being too old. He put me through much emotional distress and it has only worsened because I cannot find new employment. If I win my age discrimination lawsuit, what kind of damages can I expect to receive?

A. When it comes to damages, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which protects workers 40 years of age and older from age discrimination, differs from other federal anti-discrimination laws.

For instance, while victims of race, sex, national origin, or religious discrimination can receive under federal law a monetary award for their pain and suffering or emotional distress caused by the employer’s unlawful conduct, such compensatory damages are not extended to victims of age discrimination. Instead, the ADEA limits its relief to “judgments compelling employment, reinstatement, or promotion, the recovery of unpaid minimum wages or overtime pay, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs,” the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted in Ahlmeyer v. Nevada System of Higher Education (2009).

In the ADEA, Congress explicitly stated the law’s purpose is “to help employers and workers find ways of meeting problems arising from the impact of age on employment.” The 9th Circuit in Ahlmeyer noted that this intent resulted in a “narrower scope of the ADEA [that] is reflected in the more limited relief Congress afforded plaintiffs.” Hence, there is the ADEA’s exclusion of compensatory damages for pain and suffering and punitive damages. These types of damages are available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

To an extent, the unavailability of compensatory damages for pain and suffering and punitive damages in ADEA cases can be offset by the availability of liquidated damages in cases where the employer willfully discriminated against the employee or applicant because of his or her age. Similar to willful violations to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which provides minimum wage and overtime protections, willful ADEA violations require the payment of lost wages and an equal amount as liquidated damages.

Only relief in the form of “amounts owing as unpaid wages or unpaid overtime compensation” can be doubled. Front pay, such as unrealized stock option appreciation, cannot be doubled, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted in Greene v. Safeway Stores, Inc. (2000). While not the same as compensatory damages for pain and suffering and punitive damages, this doubling of lost wages can represent a significant award.

For instance, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff in Loveless v. John’s Ford, Inc. (2007) was entitled to liquidated damages because a jury had found his employer willfully violated the ADEA when it terminated his employment. After the plaintiff worked at an automobile dealership for 28 years, his supervisor told him he was being “retired.” The supervisor said he wanted to hire “younger, more aggressive Managers, people that he [could] groom to the way that he does business.” The supervisor also referred to another older employee as a “dinosaur.”

A jury decided the employer willfully discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of his age and awarded him $250,000 in back wages. A district court later denied the plaintiff liquidated damages because “such an award would bestow a windfall” on him. However, the 4th Circuit ruled the plaintiff had “suffered a pecuniary loss of $250,000, and thus a liquidated damages award would not bestow a windfall on him.”

Workers who believe they have been subjected to age discrimination should immediately contact an employment law attorney.

Mathew B. Tully is the founding partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. Located in Arlington, Va. and Washington, D.C., Tully Rinckey PLLC’s attorneys practice federal employment law, military law, and security clearance representation. To speak with an attorney, call 703-525-4700 or to learn more visit 

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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