Very few female celebrities have publicly raised the issue of age discrimination. Most hide from it as long as possible because they know it may be the death knell of their career. But Madonna has never been like other celebrities.
In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Madonna, 56, observes that no one would “dare say a degrading remark about being black or dare say a degrading remark on Instagram about someone being gay, but my age – anybody and everybody would say something degrading to me. And I always think to myself, why is that accepted? What’s the difference between that and racism, or any discrimination?”
The difference, Madonna, is that age discrimination has essentially been legalized in the United States. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. And Congress is completely apathetic about the issue.
In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I discuss the growing legal chasm between age discrimination and race or sex discrimination.
It’s hard to imagine that President Barack Obama, our first African-American president, would approve an executive order allowing federal agencies to bypass black and Hispanic applicants, in favor of white applicants.
Yet, President Obama in 2010 signed an executive order establishing the Pathways Recent Graduates Program, allowing federal agencies to discriminate against older workers in favor of hiring “recent graduates.” This is completely contrary to the letter and spirit of the ADEA and sends a clear signal to the private sector that age discrimination is not like other kinds of discrimination. (It is, by the way.)
In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court for decades has accorded age discrimination its very lowest standard of review, far lower than race or sex discrimination. It’s almost impossible to overturn a law that discriminates on the basis of age.
Federal judges almost always dismiss age discrimination cases before they ever reach a jury.
Madonna has lived a charmed life because she is essentially an entrepreneur and has managed through sheer force of will to avoid age discrimination until now. She’s gorgeous and incredibly talented. But many women in the workplace begin to experience age discrimination and bullying in their 40s.
Madonna also notes in the Rolling Stone article that age “is the one area where you can totally discriminate against somebody and talk shit. Because of their age. Only females, though. Not males. So in that respect we still live in a very sexist society.”
She contends that “women, generally, when they reach a certain age, have accepted that they’re not allowed to behave a certain way. But I don’t follow the rules. I never did, and I’m not going to start.”
I’m thrilled that Madonna is not planning to follow the “rules” and blithely accept second-class treatment because of her age. We need to change the rules for all older workers.