DEFENSIVE THRIVING

By Sg Published on .

Although anyone over 40 can claim age-based discrimination, "many employers ask you to sign a form releasing [them] from this option," explains lawyer Richard Kurnit, an attorney specializing in advertising issues. The waiver can be revoked within seven days of signing, with an even longer grace period in some cases. "Ask for something in exchange for signing the release, either in terms of money, benefits, or a severance package," Kurnit advises.

If you suspect discrimination, "take extensive notes, and tape conversations," suggests Michael Widener, a former AC&R/New York executive who won a multimillion-dollar out-of-court settlement in a group lawsuit. "If someone makes a comment, immediately write it down," documenting time, place, and speakers. Most disputes are settled before trial, but if you decide to go to court, you should be prepared for a "long, grueling process, where all your secrets get exposed and the opposition will try to discredit you," says Widener. It can tax the psyche as well as the wallet, and the corporate wrongdoer almost always has deeper pockets than the individual. "But if you truly feel you're being discriminated against, you owe it to yourself to stand up for your legal rights and fight back," Widener believes.

Bear in mind that it's never too early to start banking for a rainy day. In lieu of large, tax-eating salaries, employers can defer compensation or contribute to pension plans. Get your finances in shape now that you're still doing well, and start socking away 10, 15 percent or more of your salary into IRAs and regular mutual funds. (For more information on ways to save and invest, check out Eric Tyson's Personal Finances for Dummies and Andrew Tobias' The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need.)

Always "maintain your book and tape, as well as a network of friends," advises Kurnit. It may be time to move onto something else or set up shop on your own, anyway. "Don't just plunge into the same job [elsewhere]. Think about why this

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