So let's say you were born between 1946 and 1964 and came charging on a white horse into Federal service. Perhaps Carter was President; the economy was red hot; the memories of the civil rights movement and the women's movement were fresh; and you were determined to serve the public good. The Federal agencies were all beckoning, and what they could not promise you in terms of financial riches, they gave you- for many years- stability and security and health benefits for life. You disco-danced through the '70's; had your children in the 80's; and watched them grow up and tolerate your insecurity with new technology, twittering, tweeting, and skyping by 2010.
In short, you have started to feel irrelevant. You are getting older, and all the young people in your office start to look at you as a curio. Worse than feeling irrelevant, you suddenly have the uneasy notion that you are a victim of age discrimination.
Little things. Like colleagues asking you when you intend to retire. Or management criticizing your computer skills. Or co-workers twenty years younger than you becoming GS 14's while you stay a GS 12 or 13-- seemingly forever. And now management asking you sweetly, then with exasperation, when you intend to retire. You look in the mirror and you still feel as fresh as the Grateful Dead groupie you once were. You have no intention to retire. You still have a lot to contribute, and you do not want to feel like you are being eased out.
What Do You Do To Protect Yourself?
Age discrimination is illegal under Federal employment law. If you think you are being victimized and you have some evidence to back you up, you should file an informal complaint with your EEO office and then seek alternative dispute resolution: mediation. You just have to check off the right box. Mediation consists of someone who knows your work, you, a labor-relations representative, and your lawyer (you should always have an attorney at mediation, in my 38 years' experience) discuss what brings you there, while a neutral mediator tries to referee and, hopefully, help you settle your matter. Many cases settle at mediation. An agreement is then written up, which you and the agency sign, outlining what you have agreed to. If the agency recants, you have options for filing for breach by the agency.
But what if your case does not settle? The agency will send you by certified mail a request that you file a FORMAL complaint within 15 days after you receive the certified letter. Once you file, and assuming the agency accepts your complaint, the agency will assign an outside investigator to interview you, your witnesses, the agency's witnesses, and compile relevant documents. This compilation of documents and affidavits is called a Report of Investigation. Once you receive it, you have 30 days to seek a judge from the EEOC. If the agency does not produce a Report of Investigation and six months have passed since you filed your formal complaint, you can also seek an EEOC judge.
You cannot win an age discrimination case unless you were MORE qualified than someone else who received preferential treatment. If your qualifications are the same, there is no discrimination. Make sure you know what you seek as remedies.
The good news is that many cases settle. Age discrimination is a troublesome issue as a vast part of the population becomes the AARP generation.