By Stephenie Overman, contributor
FORTUNE -- If you think your age has cost you your job -- or fear it might -- you have plenty of company.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that the number of age discrimination charges has increased over the past few years, rising from 16,548 charges (21.8% of all claims) in 2006 to 22,778 (24.4% of all claims) in 2009.
But that's just "the tip of the iceberg" in this tough economy, says Laurie McCann, senior attorney for AARP. Many people don't file complaints, she says, because age discrimination is "incredibly hard to prove" and a 2009 Supreme Court decision, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., has made it even harder. (The court decided that plaintiffs claiming that they were victims of age discrimination under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act should be held to a more stringent standard of proof than plaintiffs pursuing claims under other anti-discrimination laws.)
Many often decide that their financial and emotional resources are better spent looking for another job than fighting to get their old one back, McCann says. It's especially difficult for individuals. With a group layoff, "there is strength in numbers. People can pool their money and work together to make phone calls and interview attorneys. With an individual, it takes a strong, determined person." More
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