Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, introduced the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA). A Supreme Court ruling in 2009 held that age discrimination claims must prove that discrimination was not just a motivating factor but the sole or overriding factor in an adverse employment decision. This put a higher burden on older workers alleging age discrimination than on those alleging discrimination based on race, sex, national origin or religion. The legislation would level the playing field for older workers by restoring the pre-2009 legal standards for age discrimination claims, ensuring that everyone has equal access to the courts and reinforcing the essential principle that no amount of age discrimination is acceptable in the workplace.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). While the ADEA marked an important step in protecting older workers from discrimination and has provided essential protections to millions of workers for decades, discrimination on the basis of age remains a significant problem. A 2013 AARP study found that almost two in three workers ages 45-74 reported experiencing age discrimination in the work place. Age discrimination is a key reason why many older Americans have trouble finding work after a period of unemployment and why many who are employed get paid less than their younger counterparts.
“Since the Great Recession, too many Americans in their 50’s and 60’s have had difficulty receiving a fair shot in the workforce,” Senator Casey said. “This legislation will make sure that older Americans have the tools to fight back against any age discrimination. These are the Americans that have fought our wars and raised the nation’s children and they should not face age discrimination in the job market.”
“Older Americans offer immense value to our society and our economy and they deserve the protections Congress originally intended,” Senator Grassley said. “The decision in the case of Iowan Jack Gross has had a major impact on employment discrimination litigation across the country. It’s time we clarify the law to ensure that other people like Jack Gross aren’t put in similar situations.”
“All Americans deserve the right to safe conditions and equal rights under the law in their workplaces,” Senator Leahy said. “The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) reinforces these fundamental rights for our nation’s seniors in particular – rights which were severely restricted in the Supreme Court’s Gross v. FBL Financial decision. I have long worked to defend the vital protections of the Civil Rights Act, and POWADA is a clearly needed extension of these protections. We must continue to remedy workplace discrimination, and that is all the more necessary when it comes to discrimination against those who are most vulnerable.”
“Older employees bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the workplace, and we should do all we can to ensure that these employees are able to participate fully in the workforce,” Senator Collins said. “I have advocated for many measures that would help end workplace discrimination, and as the Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, it is a high priority of mine to ensure that seniors have the ability to do their jobs without facing age-related bias.”
The legislation restores the ability of older workers to take legal action when age discrimination affected their professional opportunities. Additionally, it reaffirms that workers may use any type of admissible evidence to prove their claims.
AARP has endorsed this legislation, and in a letter supporting its introduction in 2013, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond said, “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. . . . The persistence of age discrimination in its many forms remains a significant barrier to older Americans’ retirement security.”