AARP announced today its strong endorsement of bipartisan legislation to combat age discrimination and defend the rights of older individuals in the workplace.
The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA), sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), is designed to remedy a 2009 Supreme Court decision (Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.) that made it far more difficult for older workers to prove claims of illegal bias based on age. Representative George Miller (D-CA) has introduced a companion bill in the House.
Passage of this reintroduced legislation has taken on new urgency because this year the Supreme Court (in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar) erected the same kind of legal barriers in cases in which employers retaliate against workers who challenge discrimination based on race, sex, or other grounds. POWADA would rectify this decision too.
“Iowa Senators Harkin and Grassley, joined by Chairman Leahy and Rep. Miller, are championing the rights of older workers in sponsoring this crucial legislation,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President. “Until Congress passes this bill, too many older workers who have been victims of age discrimination will be denied a fair shake in our justice system.”
For decades, if a worker showed that age was one motivating factor in an adverse employment decision, even if other motives also played a role, the employer had to prove that it would have taken the same action even absent their illegal age discrimination. After the 2009 Gross decision, employees must instead prove that the employer would not have taken the adverse action “but for” the employee’s age – in other words, that age played a determining role – a significantly higher standard of proof.
This legislation is especially welcome as the workforce ages. By 2016, one-third of the total U.S. workforce will be age 50 or older, up from 28 percent in 2007. For the past three decades, workers have been staying in the workforce longer, and their ability to continue working is especially critical in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn, when older workers lost jobs, retirement savings and housing wealth. AARP surveys consistently find that at least one-third of those interviewed say they have either personally faced or observed age discrimination in the workplace.
The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against workers 40 years or older in all aspects of employment. The passage of POWADA would protect these and other workers by reestablishing the principle that unlawful discrimination of any sort should play no role in workplace decisions.
“The persistence of age discrimination in its many forms remains a significant barrier to older Americans’ retirement security,” added LeaMond. “On their behalf, AARP applauds the reintroduction of the POWADA legislation and pledges to continue our fight for its passage.”