Recoverable Damages In An Age Discrimination Employment Case

The primary law in place to stop employers from discriminating against employees because of their age is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). If successful in an ADEA lawsuit, a plaintiff can recover several types of damages, as illustrated by a recent age discrimination case. But before we get to that case, let’s take a quick look at the ADEA.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967

The ADEA is a federal law that protects employees from age discrimination at work. But it doesn’t apply to everyone. The affected employee must be 40 years of age or older and work for an employer with 20 or more employees. But the ADEA’s mandates apply to all government employers, regardless of size.

Some jurisdictions, like Washington, D.C., have their own age discrimination laws. These often go further than the ADEA and apply to smaller employers and/or younger employees. However, for many employees enduring age discrimination, the ADEA will be their primary source of legal relief.

Cannada v. Old Dominion Brush Company, Inc.

According to his complaint, Warren Cannada (Cannada) began working for Old Dominion Brush Company, Inc. (ODB) in August 1988. In 2017 Alamo Group Inc. (Alamo) purchased ODB and made ODB its subsidiary.

When Alamo purchased ODB, Cannada worked as a Welding Supervisor. Cannada claims that until Alamo bought ODB, he had a clean disciplinary record, with no write-ups for performance issues or rule violations. Yet Cannada was fired on November 4, 2019.

Cannada says he was fired for his age, but ODB claims there were a variety of performance issues to justify his dismissal. Some of these included Cannada allegedly not:

  • Wearing proper safety equipment at work.
  • Reporting crane inspections.
  • Completing a special spreadsheet that contained productivity records of the workers in Cannada’s department.
  • Using “best practices” when dealing with an employee who was told to be more productive.
  • Accompanying an injured employee who sought medical treatment for a workplace injury.
  • Following ODB’s hiring practices when it came to following up on references checks.

At the time of his firing, Cannada was over the age of 40. In June 2020 he filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). With the EEOC unable to resolve his complaint to his satisfaction, Cannada filed suit in December 2021.

After surviving a motion for summary judgment, the case went to trial and in early March 2022, a jury concluded that ODB fired Cannada because of his age and awarded him $113,283.12 in compensatory damages for back pay. However, the jury did not believe the ODB’s age discrimination was “willful.”

After trial, Cannada’s attorney filed a motion to recover front pay, interest and attorney’s fees and costs. The court granted this motion for the most part, but reduced the amount of front pay requested. The court awarded Cannada and his attorneys $178,412.25 for attorney’s fees, $5,611.37 for costs and $44,677.83 for front pay. The court also agreed to award pre-judgment and post-judgment interest.

Cannada and his attorneys recovered a lot, but it wasn’t everything potentially recoverable in an ADEA case.

What a Plaintiff May Recover After Winning an ADEA Discrimination Case

A plaintiff who successfully sues an employer for age discrimination under the ADEA can potentially recover all of the following:

  • Back pay
  • Lost benefits
  • Liquidated damages
  • Equitable relief (including front pay)
  • Attorney’s fees and costs
  • Interest

Back pay refers to damages that equal what the plaintiff would have earned if the employer’s wrongful act never took place. It’s calculated by taking the plaintiff’s wages from the moment of the wrongful act (such as a firing) to the day the plaintiff wins at trial. But because of the plaintiff’s duty to mitigate damages, any back pay award could be reduced by the plaintiff finding a new job after getting fired.

Lost benefits can refer to things like lost retirement payments and health insurance.

Liquidated damages are damages that are equal to back pay and lost benefits. Liquidated damages have the effect of doubling the plaintiff’s damages. The reason for liquidated damages is that the ADEA doesn’t allow plaintiffs to recover punitive damages. But if an employer’s discrimination is “willful,” they can recover liquidated damages instead. Willful means the employer knew or showed a reckless disregard for whether its behavior towards the plaintiff was illegal.

Equitable relief is a legal remedy that tells someone to do something (or not do something). In an employment case, a court ordering a wrongfully terminated employee to get their job back would be a form of equitable relief. Usually, equitable relief doesn’t involve money, but sometimes it can, as is the case with front pay.

Front pay is intended to compensate a worker because they can’t get their old job back and they’re continuing to suffer financially even after winning at trial. It’s usually calculated from the time the plaintiff wins at trial to some point in the future that’s decided by the court. A court might award front pay because reinstatement isn’t possible and the plaintiff is having trouble finding a new job through no fault of their own..

Attorney’s fees and costs are expenses incurred by the plaintiff’s lawyer to take the plaintiff’s case and compensation for the lawyer’s services. Attorney’s fees can be calculated by multiplying the number of hours worked on the case by the attorney’s hourly rate. Costs are expenses taken on by the plaintiff’s lawyer during litigation. It might include things like court filing fees, mailing costs and travel expenses.

As for interest, two types can be awarded by a court. First, there’s pre-judgment interest. This is interest that accrues on an amount of money from the time it becomes evident the plaintiff is entitled to it, to the time the court enters judgment.

Second, there’s post-judgment interest, which is interest that applies from the moment court enters judgment to the time the plaintiff actually gets the money from the defendant. The purpose of both types of interest is to compensate a plaintiff for being deprived of money that was rightfully theirs.

One thing to keep in mind is that most winning plaintiffs won’t recover all of these damages in a single case. But a plaintiff who wins at trial will often get at least get back pay and lost benefits (plus interest) along with attorney’s fees and costs.

Bottom Line

The primary law that prohibits age discrimination at work is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. If an employer is found to have violated this law, an aggrieved employee has several types of damages they can potentially recover, including both monetary damages and equitable relief.


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