10302101_10152436432084304_2582768395967170001_nAARP Public Forum Highlights Critical Need for Senators Harkin and Grassley-led Legislation to Combat Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Iowans affected by employment age discrimination joined with AARP state and national leaders today in Cedar Rapids for a public hearing to share their stories and perspectives on the issue of age discrimination in the workplace – a major and growing concern among Americans 50 and over.

“Failing to protect older workers from age discrimination is not only unjust, it is counterproductive for a nation struggling to support an aging population,” said AARP Board Member Eric Schneidewind, of Lansing, Mich., AARP Board Member. “As a society, we need people to stay in the workforce, and now is the time to put age discrimination in the rear-view mirror.”

With recent AARP state and national surveys reporting two out of three older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination, AARP is working nationwide to ensure every American worker is treated fairly on the job, regardless of age.

AARP strongly supports bipartisan legislation sponsored and championed by Iowa Senators Tom Harkin (D) and Chuck Grassley (R) to combat age discrimination and defend the rights of older workers in the workplace. The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (S.1391, H.R. 2852) is designed to remedy a damaging 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.) that made it far more difficult for older workers to vindicate claims of proven bias based on age.

“Iowa Senators Harkin and Grassley are championing the rights of older workers in sponsoring this crucial legislation,” said Cheryl Matheis, AARP Senior Principal and Counsel External Affairs. “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 proved that age was one motivating factor in an adverse employment decision, the employer had to prove that it would have taken the same action even without the illegal age discrimination. This standard for age discrimination was consistent standards for proving all other types of discrimination. After the 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.

The plaintiff in the 2009 Supreme Court decision, Iowan Jack Gross, also participated in the forum, noting his goal to eliminate the inequity created for older workers by the Supreme Court’s ruling in his case, “Five years is long enough for older Americans to wait for justice and fairness to be restored,” said Gross.

Another AARP national survey found that more than three-quarters of Americans (78 percent), across the political and ideological spectrum, support the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, or POWADA, and want their members of Congress to support it.

“The stories Iowans shared at today’s hearing and the increasing number of comments we’re been receiving from AARP members across the state underscore these survey findings, show how concerned Iowans are about fair treatment for older workers and their hope Congress will take action,” said AARP Iowa State Director Kent Sovern. “AARP applauds Senators Harkin and Grassley for standing up for older workers and for having the courage to lead Congress to do the right thing to ensure workers are treated fairly, regardless of age.”

The need to pass POWADA has taken on increased urgency at a critical time for older workers. The Great Recession “officially” ended in June 2009, but national and state unemployment remains high, especially for older workers. The average length of unemployment between jobs for older workers is nearly a year on average. When older workers do find another job, it’s often for less money, which can have a devastating impact on older workers’ long-term financial security and ability to live independently as they age. Half of older Iowa workers have less than $25,000 in savings.

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.

Iowans can view the forum in its entirety on Mediacom MC-22, Channels 22 and 822 on the following dates/times: May 29/5:30 p.m., May 30/6 a.m., June 1/6:30 a.m. and June 2/2 p.m. After June 2 the program will be available on the AARP Iowa website, www.aarp.org/ia, and on Mediacom On Demand.

The survey report, Staying Ahead of the Curve 2013: AARP Multicultural Work and Career Study Perceptions of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, is available at www.aarp.org

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