Can I Sue My Employer For Discrimination in Firing/Layoff? (Illinois, Indiana & Federal)
Q. Another employee and I were laid off by our employer. It was unexpected, but the other employee and I are the two oldest employees in the company. Younger employees who had been with the company for much less time were not layed off. Is this age discrimination, and what can I do?
A. Illinois and Indiana are 'at-will' employment states, which means you can be fired, laid off or otherwise terminated for any reason, with a few exceptions. Luckily, your concern - age discrimination - is one of the exceptions. Employers cannot discriminate against you on the basis of age, disability, gender, national origin, race, color, religion, sex, or for filing a prior charge of discrimination. In Illinois it is also illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; in Indiana that law applies only to public employers.
Therefore, you could file a claim of age discrimination against your employer. This charge can be filed with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or depending on your state either the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) or the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). In most cases, filing with either the state of federal agency results in an automatic filing with the other. These commissions investigate your claim, and if they find your allegation of age discrimination to be valid, they will attempt to resolve the matter to your satisfaction with your employer; if they cannot resolve the matter, or if they are unable to substantiate your claim, they will issue you a Right To Sue letter, which entitles you to then file a lawsuit against the employer in court.
The difficulty with these cases arises in being able to actually prove your claim. It is one thing to know in your gut that you were laid off because of your age; it's an entirely different thing to be able to prove that fact. If you have anything in writing, or perhaps can recollect an incriminating statement made by an employer, or some other conduct or statement you can point to in support of your claim, that may carry the day. But, proving these cases can be difficult, so be wary of investing money in litigating these claims. Try to find an attorney that will handle the matter on a contingency basis, meaning you pay nothing up front and the attorney is paid a percentage of the funds you recover, and only if you recover. I have found this approach works best in cases my firm litigated in this area of the law.
Best of luck in pursuing your claim. I encourage you to seek justice and hold the employer accountable if indeed the layoff was discriminatory in nature.