jobs-search-imageOlder Louisianans overwhelmingly support bipartisan legislation to combat age discrimination in the workplace, a new AARP survey shows.

The telephone survey conducted last month of 501 registered Louisiana voters 50 and older found a remarkable 83 percent favor passage of the bipartisan Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA).

Significantly, 91 percent of those interviewed said they “strongly” endorsed the bill.  In contrast, only 5 percent oppose passage, the survey reported.

“No one deserves to be ousted from their job or passed over for promotion because they are older. Yet the survey showed that a majority of  Louisianans say based on what they’ve seen or experienced in the workplace, people over the age of 50 face age discrimination on the job,” said Nancy McPherson, AARP Louisiana State Director. “Considering that many of us will need to stay in the workforce longer to make ends meet and save for retirement, a majority of Louisianans across ideological lines demand fairness for older workers and support POWADA.”

The legislation, sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), is designed to overturn a divided (5-4) U.S. Supreme Court decision (Gross v. FBL Financial Services) that made it much more difficult  for older workers to prove claims of illegal bias based on age.

The survey found that over 70 percent of Louisiana residents believe people age 50 and older face age discrimination in the workplace.

The 2009 Supreme Court decision substantially heightened the standard that older workers must meet in order to prove that his or her employer violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Unfortunately, the decision means many older workers will never see their day in court, and it is now being applied by some courts to restrict the rights of employees in other types of employment discrimination cases too. Last summer, the Supreme Court extended the decision to cases when an employer retaliates against the employee for challenging discrimination.

For decades, if an older 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 made the same decision without considering the employee’s age. Since the Gross decision, employees instead must prove that the employer would not have taken the adverse action “but for” their age — in other words, that age played the determining role — a significantly higher standard of proof.

The legislation would restore the old standard and help ensure that employees have a more level playing field when fighting age discrimination in court.

The AARP survey of Louisiana voters conducted by telephone from March 8 to March 13, found 96 percent think older Americans should be protected from age discrimination just like they are from sex or race discrimination, and 91 percent agreed that “Congress needs to do more to ensure people over 50 continue to have an equal opportunity to work for as long as they want or need to – regardless of their age.”

The age discrimination bill is gaining traction at a difficult time for older workers. National unemployment has recently declined somewhat, but it remains high. And the average length of unemployment between jobs for older workers is nearly a year.  Of those polled in Louisiana, 63 percent said they believe “age would be an obstacle to finding work.”