Under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, employees must be 40 or older to file an age-bias lawsuit. But several states (among them Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Oregon) don’t include a minimum age at which legal protection begins.
Those states either set no minimum or define “age” as older than 18 and have allowed youth-based discrimination claims. For example:
Kimberly Zanni, a 31-year-old account executive, was fired and replaced by an older, less qualified woman. One supervisor had told Zanni that she sounded too young on the phone and that her clients wanted an older account exec. Zanni sued for age discrimination under Michigan’s Civil Rights Act, and the state court of appeals let the case go to trial. The court said the state law, which forbids bias on the basis of “chronological age,” also covers employees under 40. Zanni v. Medaphis Physician Services Corp., 240 Mich. App. 472, 612 N.W. 2d 845 (2000)
In 1999 the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that its state law protected a 25-year-old bank vice president who was fired after the bank’s chairman discovered his age. Bergen Commercial Bank v. Sisler, 157 N.J. 188, 723 A.2d 944 (1999)
Tip: You can avoid even the threat of legal trouble by basing any hiring, firing or promotion decisions on merit and experience—not on either end of the age spectrum.