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AARP AARP States Advocacy

Tony Vola: Iowa’s older workers deserve respect and protection


In his June 16 guest opinion for the Press-Citizen, heaping praise on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Gross decision on age discrimination and his role in it, Frank Harty misrepresents the law and fails to show an understanding of the harsh impact of this ruling on people’s lives.

The Gross decision represented a drastic and damaging change in employment discrimination law. For decades before Gross, a worker had to show that age was one motivating factor in an adverse employment decision. In the 5-4 Gross decision, the Supreme Court devised a very different standard.

Now employees would have to prove that age was the “determining” factor, that “but for” the employee’s age, the action would not have been taken. This means that victims of age discrimination face a higher burden than those alleging discrimination based on race, sex, national origin or religion.

Harty somehow glosses over the dramatic change in the law the Supreme Court made. He views the workforce through a time warp, as illustrated by his reference to the “American Association of Retired Persons.” That is a name we changed 15 years ago, in part to reflect the fact that so many of our members — today the figure is about 40 percent — are in the labor force.

By 2016, one-third of America’s workers will be age 50 or older. People today are staying in the workforce longer, whether it is because they need to work to pay the bills, protect their families, and prepare financially for a longer lifespan — or because they find fulfillment on the job — or some combination of these factors.

Sadly, many of them are subjected to age discrimination at work.

In a survey we conducted in 2012, 64 percent of workers 45-74 said they have observed or faced age discrimination on the job. The New York Times has reported that age discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission jumped nearly 30 percent between 2006 and 2013.

Age discrimination does not come with a statement of confession — and it is usually hard to find a smoking gun. But to use the football lingo Harty invokes, you do not need the peripheral vision of a quarterback to see the consequences for the victim.

Persistent age discrimination is a key reason that older workers who lose their jobs face much longer periods of unemployment than younger workers. When older workers do find another job, it often is for less money, in many cases undermining their long term financial security and ability to live independently as they age.

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) bars discrimination against workers 40 years and older in all aspects of employment. AARP agrees with the Press-Citizen Editorial Board that it is “time to put some teeth back” into this law by providing a remedy for the Gross decision.

We strongly support the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which Iowa Sens. Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley have sponsored.

AARP is heartened by the bipartisan support from Harkin and Grassley for this legislation. Not content to simply oppose their position, Harty calls them our “aging senators.”

Why not assess individuals based on their competence and their contributions, not the calendar? Judging and deriding people based on their age is a tactic Harty may be comfortable with, but it is a standard none of us should be proud to embrace.

Tony Vola of Saylor Township is the Iowa state president of AARP. Contact him at

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