Fighting Age Discrimination Against Educators

Across the United States, veteran educators are facing a growing problem of age  discrimination.

Last year, Tempe Elementary School District No. 3 in Tucson, Arizona, discriminated against employees on the basis of age when it applied an early retirement incentive plan which granted greater economic benefits to younger employees based upon their age.

In North Carolina, a public school teacher was denied a promotion to assistant principal because of her age. She eventually won a $25,000 settlement after a lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In 2009, EEOC filed an amicus brief in a case from Oklahoma City, successfully arguing that the trial court was wrong to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit by an older educator who had been demoted because of her age.

The National Education Association denounces blatant age discrimination as more and more veteran educators are targeted for dismissal by school superintendents and administrators. In many cases, school officials use the guise of “improvement plans” to harass veteran educators without taking into account the countless contributions they have made to public education.

Educators who have been discriminated against because of their age can find solace and legal protection in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects teachers age 40 and over against age discrimination. Under this act, age may not be the sole factor when a school district terminates the employment of a teacher. If a teacher charges a school district with age discrimination, the school district has the burden to show that some factor other than age influenced its decision.

This law, administered by EEOC, helps to protect this group of educators who either apply for a position or are already employed. In accordance with ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment. This includes, but is not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments and training. The Older Workers Benefit Protections Act amended several sections of the ADEA.

In Tucson, a lawsuit by EEOC against Tempe Elementary School District alleges that the school district maintained an early retirement incentive plan that was unlawful. Specifically, the EEOC charges that the school district’s plan is discriminatory because it grants more favorable benefits to younger employees based on their age. Under the school district’s retirement plan, employees are reimbursed for accumulated leave based on their age at retirement, with those retiring at a younger age being treated more favorably than those who retire after age 60.

“Early retirement incentive plans which discriminate on their face based upon age are illegal and need to be changed,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “People in their ‘60s should not be penalized merely because they want to continue working.”

Rayford Irvin, district director of EEOC’s Phoenix district office, said in a statement that “with more people working longer and delaying retirement, we will actively protect the rights of people over 40 to be free from this type of discrimination.”

The EEOC filed the lawsuit after exhausting its conciliation efforts to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement. The agency is seeking monetary relief including the amount of money a retiree should have received but for the discrimination with prejudgment interest. The commission is also seeking an injunction prohibiting future discrimination to prevent the school district from engaging in further practices that discriminate on the basis of age.

The main body of employment discrimination laws consists of federal and state statutes. Some state constitutions may provide additional protection when the employer is a governmental body or the government has taken significant steps to foster the discriminatory practice of the employer.


If you have been subjected to improper treatment at your school based on your age, be sure to keep detailed records to document all of the disparate treatment. Read more about age discrimination laws.

  • Charlotte Holtry

    I am a substitute teacher in Dorchester County District 2 in SC. My district refuses “Smart Board” training for their substitutes. I do not understand why, if a substitute wants to better herself by getting training in this area, that it is refused.

    • Jeremy

      My wife is 4th grade teacher. She was told by HR in the county she is applying that the highest they pay for a teacher new to the county is a step 5. My wife is currently in her 14th year. That difference in pay is a non starter. I’m a government employee and used to getting credit for time served. If she was hired, could they legally do this?

  • Laura Bellinger

    I have just been age discriminated against. I’m 51. Many interviews, but instead they hired a young inexperienced educator. I don’t see how it can possibly be fought. They can always use a different excuse.

  • erin

    I’m 35 years old, with 13 years of teaching experience and a master’s degree. I’m at the top of the salary schedule. I taught at one school for 3 years with great success, and then right before I acheived “professional status” (ie, administration would have to give an actual reason for letting me go), I was “not re-hired.” This happened right after the administrator in charge of the budget for my department was asked to slash said budget. Unsurprisingly, the teacher hired to replace me is 23, right out of college. I interviewed for a new position and they really seemed to like me. I didn’t get the job. I recently found out that they hired – you guessed it – a girl right out of college. There’s no way to prove age discrimination like this. In any case, it doesn’t have much to do with age – it’s all about money. Does experience matter for nothing?

  • Nancy

    I teach Elementary Visual Art in two schools and am close to 60. I teach almost 800 students a week. I work most days with little planning time. This was not a problem until accountability requirements were increased. I am required to provide evidence of progress for each class and each student. With this number of students, I basically work all day on my feet and then work for many hours after school at my computer often into the night. As the oldest, I am the only Visual Art teacher in my district who has anything close to this work load. In addition I have three documented and qualifying disability issues which are exacerbated by this work load. I have to work and cannot retire.


    Also article should be entitled “Fighting Age Discrimination B Y ‘Educators'”!!!:

    In supposedly liberal Seattle in the supposedly liberal state of Washington at the supposedly liberal University of Washington the campus police as policy openly discriminate against elderly even former professors.
    Former(at 70) but still active scientists like myself(a physicist), having moved here for my wife’s health issues (she got no decent treatment whatsoever from the much vaunted but greatly disappointing University of Washington medical center)have been forbidden from attending any seminars and colloquia, (or even contacting any faculty by any means whatsoever) in any departments whatsoever under penalty of arrest. (And I was starting to do joint research with several professors in several departments and have many books and much property on UW campus). This is in direct violation of all federal funding agency federal laws. What one sees is the sociological-dysfunctionality of ageism in their FEAR, FEAR of new visitors with new ideas that come from older visitors since much of their public posture(this “STEM” man tra) is media-hype P.R. show-biz to ensnare the young ONLY. And this ageism reinforced by their police is most especially true of departments like psychology, as well as philosophy and earth sciences, with some ageism also in physics and mathematics(the most friendly). Why I have been told by professors half my age that “it is O.K. TO ATTEND SEMINARS/COLLOQUIA, BUT YOU CAN’T ASK ANY QUESTIONS NOR MAKE ANY COMMENTS”, even when they are about my work or fields that I was(and still am) an expert in, or in some cases the father of! To attend anything on UW campus, I must actually phone the UW police chief and get his permission, and I simply refuse to be treated in such a fascist ageism manner, reinforced by all department chairs, all deans, the provost, the president, the regents, and seemingly the supposedly liberal governor.
    University of Washington is a total disappointment with rampant police enforced ageism as official policy!!!

  • Many minority teachers are being evaluated by principals who do not wants blacks or hispanics teachers in a school. Since the principal or the AP becomes the sole evaluator and does not want minorities in the school, they give them unfair evaluations. A teacher can be terminated because of these bias attitudes. No teacher should be terminated because of these flaws in the evaluation process. Someone needs to stop this practice in many schools.

  • Many minority teachers are being evaluated by principals who do not wants blacks or hispanics teachers in a school. Since the principal or the AP becomes the sole evaluator and does not want minorities in the school, they give them unfair evaluations. A teacher can be terminated because of these bias attitudes. No teacher should be terminated because of these flaws in the evaluation process.

  • Judy

    I am 46 years old and cannot find a teaching position in Ky. All the positions are given to young, fresh out of college kids or relatives of someone. Nepotism is rampant in school hiring. What can I do about it? How do I prove my case? Nobody will listen to me.

  • cathy

    Looks like a lot of people have been discriminated against. I also, can join this group. With 12 years teaching experience, I moved to North Carolina. I have received only one end of year position and one interim position. I have been on over 51 interviews in five years, and the job always goes to the young college graduate, or the principals friend. I have now lost my pension and do not know were to turn. All of us are in the same position, but I have not heard anyone who can help. If the NEA would care to comment or give us some advise, then this site would be helpful. Otherwise it is just a information gathering tool. Please someone with knowledge of how to approach this illegal problem and put an end to it, step up and get working….this is outrageous!

  • Susan

    After working in industry for many years in a STEM-related field, I decided I’d like to switch gears and teach. I completed the undergraduate coursework for teacher certification and then went on to earn a Master’s degree in Education. I can’t prove that I’m not getting hired because of my age but it certainly seems so. The administrator will compliment me on my resume, acknowledging how the students can benefit from that real-world experience and then tell me that they ard looking for someone that can make a long term commitment. When I check back (friends, school websites) they’ve invariably hired someone considerably younger.

  • Teresa sweet

    I am 58yo. I have been a long term sub and had many interviews but keep being passed over for schools hiring younger teachers. I am told I am too high on the pay scale . Isn’t that another way of saying I’m too old! So tired of this game

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  • I am 57 years old and recently applied for a head hockey coaches position. I have been teaching for 32 years and have coached and officiated hockey at the USA , college and high school levels. The athletic director came down to my class room after the interview and told me I had a great interview and went head to head with the other candidate. He told me that they hired the other teacher. I asked him how he made his decision. He said, “longevity”. That was the end of the conversation. The other candidate has never been an official, head coach, never been a USA hockey coach, never attended a coaching clinic or even coached a hockey camp which I have done for over 25 years. Longevity was really a stupid answer and basically he said I was to old compared to the 32 year old teacher that was hired over me.

  • B the Builder

    At age 61 the harassment and castigation starts despite accolades by parents, and all excellent evaluations. Interestingly enough certain administrators can inhibit enrollment in elective subjects and then close those very programs, under the guise of low enrollment. They do this just to get rid of a teacher and skirt any kind of due process. In spite of all the age discrimination laws, how is it that a select few still can get away with this nonsense? Simple they get to use taxpayers money to defend themselves while a teacher will go broke trying to bring an action against them.

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  • Annie Finch

    I do believe there is discrimination in the hiring practices in public education. Yes, they do hire younger, less experienced or no experience just to pay less in salaries. Or, it is simply who knows who. It is shameful that the best candidates are usually not the ones that get the positions, this is why we fail so much in education. Wisdom and extended experience offers guidance to build stronger schools. If you’re in education, you should be able to work as long as you are effective. Unfortunately, not so in K-12 education. There is too much age discrimination and I wish someone would take note of this and do something about it.

  • Nancy

    I am 47 with 6 years experience in my system as a substitute and teaching assistant. I had one 6 week interim teaching position. I earned my degree in 2010, so I would cost the same as any young person coming in. However, I have been passed over for younger people, despite being assured by administrators that I am a steal because I have so many years of experience working with children (25+) and I am a mom. My license expires in August 2015 and at this point, I see no reason to take another class to renew it. This has left me incredibly depressed; all I ever wanted was to teach, but despite support from teachers and parents in the system, I remain jobless. I have seen no one over the age of 30 hired in the past few years, but because of my hard work and dedication and my belief that the positive reviews I got would lead to a classroom to call my own, I remain jobless.

    • Nancy

      I meant to say that I held on longer than I should have because administrators used me to teach their young teachers classroom management skills. Because I believed that I would be rewarded for my loyalty and dedication, I stuck around. However, in the end, none of it mattered and I remain jobless.

      • VG

        Oh my gosh! Your situation sounds exactly like mine. I got my initial teaching license in 2013 and all I’ve been offered is a five month position that could go into a full-time position this year. I was kept hanging on until the very last day of this fiscal year, then they told me they went with someone with mrore experience. Okay, but I also have an AAS degree in library technology. I was strung on for that position as well…if the one position didn’t work out, I was to have the other. Same thing, told at the same time that they chose someone who had more tech savvy than I. I just met Miss Technology and she looks the same as the first one they hired for the library position the first time- about 22, with a fresh teaching license and no clue but lots of enthusiasm to do all jobs. Me, I just finished two degrees (AAS library Technican, and dual majors in SpEd/General Ed k-6), finally got some classroom experience working with kids preschool-12, worked in libraries for 15 years, the school’s library for 10 of those years, my college experience was ALL online, and I am willing and eager to learn anything they want me to, but I don’t have the technology they are looking for. I assume my 60 year old face, with my 30 years experience in that same school must have told them I didn’t have it. I am also teaching the only summer school classroom grades 1-5th, with one severe needs student, but still…what do I have to offer!? Right!