Senate Aging Committee Pledges to Fight Age Discrimination in Employment

At a hearing on Wednesday, leaders of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging vowed to “fix” a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes it very difficult for older workers to fight age discrimination in federal court.

Committee Chairperson Susan Collins, R-ME, and Ranking Leader Bob Casey, D-PA,  also acknowledged the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on December 15, 1967.

Collins and Casey addressed the Supreme Court’s catastrophic 2009 decision, in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, which raised the burden of proof in ADEA cases far above that of race or sex discrimination cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Since Gross, older workers have been required prove that age discrimination was not just a motivating factor but the decisive factor in an adverse employment action. The Gross decision legalized a broad swath of  discrimination that is illegal under Title VII and sent a signal to employers that age discrimination will be tolerated.

 “For the life of me,” said Collins, “I don’t understand why there is a higher burden for proving that age discrimination was the reason for the adverse employment action … compared to gender, religion, race.”

The legislators expressed strong support for a bill they are sponsoring, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA), which would essentially restore the status quo with respect to the plaintiff’s evidentiary burden prior to the Gross decision. The bill  has been introduced several times since 2009 but has never made it out of committee to a vote. Sen. Casey, who worked on age discrimination cases as an attorney, said it was always hard for workers to fight back against insidious age discrimination but that it is even harder today “because the Supreme Court weakened the ADEA and we’ve got to fix that.”

A witness at the hearing, Laurie McCann, a senior attorney for the AARP, urged the Committee to hold a series of hearings to learn what changes are needed to update and strengthen the ADEA to adequately protect older workers. “The AARP believes that it is well past time to update and strengthen the ADEA so that it can respond to the challenges facing today’s older workers in today’s workplace,” she said.

As I demonstrated in my 2013 book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, the ADEA was far weaker than Title VII when it was adopted 50 years ago and it has since been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In the book, I proposed repealing the ADEA and making age a protected class under Title VII, as was originally proposed when the passage of Title VII was being debated by Congress.

According to McCann, three in ten near-retiree-age (55-64) households have no retirement savings at all and the median retirement savings of all near-retiree households was only $14,500 in 2013. McCann said financial need is by far the most important reason that workers aged 45-74 work. She blamed age discrimination on persistent negative stereotypes and discriminatory employer recruitment practices, including advertising for “digital natives,” specifying a maximum number of years of experience or limiting recruitment to entry-level positions on college campuses.

Financial need is by far the most important reason that workers aged 45-74 work – AARP.

The committee also issued a report on Wednesday examining the nation’s aging workforce, “America’s Aging Workforce: Opportunities and Challenges.”  The report states the number of Americans over age 55 in the labor force is projected to increase from 35.7 million in 2016 to 42.1 million in 2026, and, by 2026, aging workers will make up nearly one quarter of the labor force.  The business case for hiring, retaining, and supporting older workers is strong, according to the report, but challenges exist – including age discrimination, inadequate training opportunities, working while managing health conditions and disabilities, balancing caregiving responsibilities with work, and preparing financially for retirement.

Collins said U.S. employers are going to need older workers in the years ahead and can’t afford to “discard skills and experience that older workers bring to workplace.”

Another witness, Lisa Motta, 54, from Pittsburgh, Pa., testified about re-entering the workforce in her 50s  after having lost her sight. A former teacher, she now works as a recruiting administrator at PNC Bank. “As America’s workforce grows older, more and more workers will face challenges like these and will need additional supports and accommodations,” Motta said. “They will also need laws in place that ensure that when they walk into an interview they do not face any form of discrimination. When we make it easier for these workers to succeed, everyone benefits.”

Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, the Senate aging committee was criticized for failing to act in the face of the epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace that occurred during and since the Great Recession.

Absent from Wednesday’s hearing was a representative from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has ignored a major spike in age discrimination complaints dsince 2008 and rampant age discrimination in the federal government, and has issued administrative decisions that reflect a higher standard in age discrimination cases than in race or sex discrimination case.

The Sleeping Bear Awakens: The AARP Questions Legal Inequality of Older Workers

Something has poked the sleeping bear.

An attorney for the AARP was quoted in The New York Times recently as stating that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 “may not be up to the task.” This represents a profound shift for the AARP, which has done little in recent years (if anything) to acknowledge the fundamental legal inequality of older workers under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The AARP states on its web site that the ADEA was passed in 1967 with the  “strong backing” of the AARP.

In my 2013 book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I note the ADEA gives older workers far less protection than Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides to victims of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color and national origin. For example, the ADEA permits age discrimination if  it is based on a reasonable factor other than age (i.e., cost savings).  Title VII requires employers to show “business necessity” and to demonstrate there were no alternatives with less discriminatory impact.  Victims of age discrimination can recover only monetary damages and if there are none they get nothing.  Title VII plaintiffs are entitled to monetary damages plus  punitive and compensatory damages (i.e. damages for emotional distress).

Because of legal inequality,  millions of older workers have been forced out of the workplace and into an impoverished retirement since the Great Recession.

Mind you, there has never been any intellectual or moral justification for treating age discrimination differently than other types of discrimination – all discrimination is based on fear, false stereotypes, and animus directed toward a specific group. If workers are not capable of doing a job due to age-related decline, they can be dismissed. That’s not discrimination.

What Prompted The Change?

I contacted the AARP earlier this week to applaud the organization for finally acknowledging the ADEA “may not be up to the task” of preventing older workers from  irrational and harmful discrimination.  I then asked the AARP officials whether their position was influenced by my book, which is the first to challenge the fundamental legal inequality of older workers under the ADEA. I observed the AARP had never acknowledged the book – or a follow up companion work, Overcoming Age Discrimination in Employment –  despite my efforts to bring these works to the attention of the AARP and the readers of its publications. I said that capitalizing on my work without giving me credit is disrespectful and intellectually dishonest. The AARP officials insisted they have been working hard (sometimes behind the scenes) all these years to battle age discrimination in employment. They did not confirm or deny that my work had influenced their change of heart about the ADEA but suggested that “this should not be about who gets credit, but rather, about how best to improve the lives of older workers.”

This is about improving the lives of older workers but it is also about credit.

I care about credit for the same reason the AARP cares about its brand as the advocate for the rights of Americans over the age of 50. The AARP’s brand name establishes its credibility and helps the AARP sell Medi-gap health insurance and European vacations.

I suggested it would be appropriate for the AARP  to give credit where credit is due; that the AARP should do what it should have done in 2014 and acknowledge the publication of Betrayed; The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace  and the important ideas that are contained within the book.  These ideas appear to have been powerful enough to make the AARP question the insufficiency of the ADEA.

The AARP assured me that it has been as active as it can be in fighting age discrimination and wished me good luck in my future endeavors!

Now that the AARP  has acknowledged the ADEA may not be up to the task of protecting older workers, one can only hope the AARP will recognize other areas in which age discrimination has been legalized in the Untied States.  The AARP  was silent when former President Barack Obama in 2010 signed an executive order allowing our nation’s largest employer, the federal government, to blatantly discriminate in hiring on the basis of age and then again in 2015 when Obama’s Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, now chair of the Democratic Party, endorsed a private initiative by Starbucks and other major American corporations to hire only younger workers in clear violation of the ADEA.  I wrote about both of these issues in my employment law blogs, as well as the EEOC’s consistent failure to devote significant resources to prosecute age discrimination.  In the New York Times, it was reported: “Only two of the cases the E.E.O.C. filed in court last year involved the federal age discrimination act, according to a list assembled by AARP, the nonprofit older citizens group.” The reporter said the AARP’s list was assembled in July, about six months after I reported the EEOC had only filed two cases with age discrimination claims in 2016.  But who’s counting?

EEOC & AARP: The Willfully Blind leading the Willfully Blind?

You can’t make this stuff up.

The EEOC has announced that age discrimination will be a “special focus” of its major annual “training event” for employers  later this month to mark the 50th anniversary of enactment of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

The invited guest speaker is Jo Ann Jenkins, the CEO of the AARP, an organization that has done virtually nothing in 50 years to address the fundamental legal inequality of older workers in the United States and for years has accorded mere lip service  to the epidemic of age discrimination in employment that began during the Great Recession.

Of course, the EEOC under Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration also did virtually nothing about the problem of age discrimination in employment. The EEOC last year filed exactly two lawsuits with age discrimination claims, despite receiving more than 20,000 complaints of age discrimination. The EEOC today arguably does more to protect employers from the consequences of illegal age discrimination than it does to protect older workers from illegal age discrimination. It remains to be seen whether GOP President Donald Trump and EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A.  Lipnic will choose do any better.

The EEOC press release states the CEO of the AARP and the EEOC Acting Chair  will engage in a “candid conversation about age discrimination.”   Maybe they could start by explaining why both organizations have completely ignored the problem for decades.

I respectfully suggest  Jenkins and Lipnic obtain a copy of my groundbreaking book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, which candidly describes the epic failure of the federal government protect older workers from irrational and devastating age discrimination in employment. Up to now, both the EEOC and the AARP have  completely ignored the book, which received an excellent review from The ABA Commission on Law and Aging. Continue reading “EEOC & AARP: The Willfully Blind leading the Willfully Blind?”

AARP extols beach movies; Silent about discrimination

The AARP has been completely silent about the Obama administration’s recent endorsement of blatant age discrimination in employment by Starbucks, Walmart and Microsoft,  not to mention the hiring program operated by the federal government that blatantly discriminates against older workers.

So what does concern the AARP, which has 37 million members aged 50 and above and describes itself as the leading advocacy group for older Americans?

A Google search on Wednesday for “AARP” led to  AARP.org  (a.k.a. ‘AARP – Health, Travel Deals, Baby Boomers, Over 50, Online Games, Retirement Plans).  The AARP’s main web page today is focused on beach-themed movies and editorial copy that appears to lead to various AARP-branded commercial services that sell products related to caregiving, internet use, etc.

Yes, the AARP is trumpeting  beach movies:  “To mark the 50th anniversary of the Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon classic Beach Blanket Bingo, we take a look at 10 other beach movies that have a lot more to offer than surfboards and bongos.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the AARP was about more than surfboards and bongos?

Beach

AARP Profits While Older Workers Struggle

If only business was as good to America’s struggling older workers as it is for the AARP.

In 2010, the AARP had assets totaled $2,546,636,000. According to its 2013 Financial Report, the AARP’s assets had grown to $3,026,971,000 in 2012 and $3,393,94,000 in 2013.  By 2014,  the AARP’s  assets totaled $3,585,853,000.

That’s an 40.8 percent rise since 2010.

Meanwhile, a recent AARP survey showed that half of the people ages 45 to 70 who experienced unemployment during the past five years are not currently working. Fifty percent of survey respondents reported they were either unemployed or had dropped out of the labor force. Among those who had become reemployed, nearly half said they were earning less than in their previous jobs.

In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I show indisputably that older workers are suffering from unaddressed and epidemic age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Older workers have far less protection than their counterparts under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  My attempts to interest the AARP in working to ensure that older workers obtain equal justice under the law have met a solid wall of disinterest. This, despite the fact that age discrimination in the workplace denies millions of older Americans the right to work and dooms them to poverty or near poverty in their old age.

The AARP calls itself the leading advocate for Americans aged 50 and older. But the AARP also sells the most popular “Medigap” plans in the United States, AARP Medicare Supplement Health Insurance Plans, as well as a huge array of travel services, high tech products and … you name it.

 The AARP’s for-profit enterprise, AARP Services, Inc., is  essentially marketing access generated by its non-profit entity, the AARP Foundation, to 37 million of America’s oldest consumers.

Is it really too much to ask the AARP to use some of its riches to do more than just take surveys  – to act to insure that older workers are treated equally under the law, and not subjected to bogus restructurings and downsizings, chronic unemployment and poverty in old age?  Fifty years of inequality is enough.

The AARP: Surveys but no Solutions

The AARP has been conducting surveys for years showing the existence of epidemic age discrimination in the American workplace and it released yet another one on Monday.

But the AARP seems unwilling to take a position on why the problem of unemployment and under-employment exists for older workers and what to do about it. Although the AARP markets itself as the nation’s leading advocate for Americans age 50 and older, it’s advocacy on this issue has been virtually non-existent. One can’t help but wonder if the AARP’s reticence reflects greater concern for its $3 billion a year profit-making enterprise selling health and travel insurance to retirees than the plight of older workers.

In my recent book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I indisputably show that older workers have virtually no protection against age discrimination in the workplace. This is a problem that has been getting worse for fifty years. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  I propose repealing the ADEA and making age a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to insure that older workers receive the same level of protection as workers who are subject to illegal discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion. All employment discrimination is based on irrational animus and unfounded stereotypes. There is absolutely no justification for treating older workers differently and, in fact, it is completely contrary to the bedrock principle of U.S. Constitutional that insures all Americans receive equal justice under the law.

Why isn’t the AARP lobbying Congress to provide equal justice for older workers? The AARP surveys generate a lot of wonderful free publicity for the AARP, which makes it appear that the AARP is actually doing something. But the reality is that no one is doing anything about the problem of age discrimination in the workplace, which reached crisis proportions during the Great Recession and is still wreaking havoc on older workers lives. Even the White House Conference on Aging refuses to acknowledge the issue, preferring instead to partner with t he AARP to address “healthy aging.”

For the record, the AARP’s latest survey released Monday shows that half of older workers who experienced unemployment in the last five years are not working: 38% reported they were unemployed and 12% had dropped out of the labor force.

Other findings in the AARP survey are:

  •  Half of Those Who Found Jobs Earn Less: 48% of the reemployed said that they were earning less on their current job than the job they had before they most recently become unemployed. Among the reemployed, half were earning less because they were being paid less, 10% were working fewer hours, and 39% gave both as reasons.
  • Many Settle for Part-Time Work: 41% of those who experienced long-term unemployment are working in part-time jobs.
  • Half Work in a New Occupation: 53% had an occupation different from the one they had prior to becoming unemployed. By way of comparison 63% of the long-term unemployed had a job in a different occupation, while 46% of the short-term unemployed were in a different occupation.
  • Training May Help: 25% of the respondents who landed jobs and participated in training or education programs in the previous five years said it helped a great deal in finding a job.

What else is new?

The survey consisted of polling 2,492 individuals between the ages of 45 to 50 between July and October of 2014.  All of the participants had been unemployed at some time during the past five years  The respondents were part of a randomly selected online panel

Who Owns the Problem of Age Discrimination?

Part of the problem of age discrimination in the workplace is that nobody seems to claim ownership of it.

Folks who have already retired are very interested in the issue but it doesn’t affect them directly anymore, except to the extent that it contributes to health issues and poverty in retirement.

Younger workers don’t seem to comprehend that they are the ones who are most directly affected by age discrimination in the workplace. Of course, they are scrambling to survive and raise families in this precarious pro-business economy where workers generally have few rights.  In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I show that the problem of age discrimination is so prevalent in America today that it has become the new normal and is even affecting workers in their 30s. To some extent, lack of awareness is in the nature of youth.  As Aristotle said, “Youth is easily deceived, because it is quick to hope.”

The upcoming White House Conference on Aging has not shown any indication that it will address the epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace, a problem made incrementally worse in 2010 when President Barack Obama signed an executive order allowing federal agencies to discriminate against older workers and hire “recent graduates.”  The Conference issues page  identifies the following themes: healthy aging, long term services and supports, and elder justice (abuse and neglect).  Age discrimination  in employment is no-where mentioned.

My book  documents the inferior treatment accorded under the law to victims of age discrimination in employment. I show that the major federal law that prohibits age discrimination, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, was weak and riddled with loopholes when it was passed by Congress in 1967 and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Today, there are virtually no consequences for employers who engage in blatant age discrimination and many incentives to do so (e.g., cost-savings, youthful image).

Why have older workers have been second class citizens  under the law for fifty years? The AARP, which earned $1.34 billion last year selling insurance and travel products to older Americans, claims to be a champion of the rights of older Americans.  Is the AARP really so powerless that it cannot insure that older workers at least have the same protections and rights as other Americans?

The most recent major assault on the ADEA occurred in 2009 when the U.S. Supreme Court in Gross v. FBL Financial Services established a higher standard of proof in ADEA cases than exists under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  That year, a handful of progressive legislators proposed the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which would legislatively “fix” the Gross decision. The POWADA has never made it out of committee.

Contact the White House Conference on Aging and urge conference director Nora Super to address the problem of age discrimination in the workplace. The conference email address is info@whaging.gov

AARP: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Well, I finally heard from the AARP.

Readers may recall that I attempted numerous times without success in September 2014  to contact the leadership of the for-profit AARP and its non-profit advocacy arm, the AARP Foundation, about my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace.   The book exposes the failure of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 to protect older workers during and since the Great Recession and documents the suffering of older workers who are forced by epidemic age discrimination into a penurious early retirement.

I got no response from the AARP.  Meanwhile, I wrote articles for the International Federation on Aging and the American Society on Aging (forthcoming) on the connection between age discrimination and problems in retirement.

I was baffled by the  complete silence from AARP leaders – not even a “thank you but get lost.” Like most Americans, I thought the AARP was the nation’s leading advocacy group for older Americans. I wrote an article for this blog on Oct. 6  about the fund-raising emphasis and inane issues listed on the AARP Foundation’s web site – “AARP Foundation invites NASCAR fans to ‘Ride with Jeff” and  “Couples say relationships benefit from volunteering together.”  A few days later, I wrote another article about how other countries advocate for equal rights for older workers.

On Nov. 4, out of the blue, I received an email from Lisa Ryerson, the head of the AARP Foundation, who invited me to contact her.  In a reply email, I asked if she would agree to set up an appointment to discuss the problem of age discrimination.  She forwarded my request to Stuart Cohen, the head of the AARP Foundation’s legal team, who in turn forwarded my request to two other AARP officials, who were nice enough to talk to me for an hour last month.

In our discussion, I outlined my proposed short-term and long-term strategy for addressing the problem of age discrimination, starting with a focus on the passage of the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) and listing age discrimination as an issue to be addressed at the upcoming  White House Conference on Aging.

The POWADA, which has languished in Congress for five long years, would reverse at least some of the damage inflicted on older workers by a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Gross v. FBL Financial Services.  That decision raised the level of proof in age discrimination cases far above that for race or sex discrimination cases.  Older workers  today are literally second class citizens in our nation’s court system, which is completely contrary to basic American concepts of fairness and equal justice under the law.

Meanwhile, age discrimination is so pervasive that it is trickling down to workers in their 30s and 40s who are by any other standard young.  Even the federal government has gotten into the act. President Barack Obama in 2010 signed an executive order establishing the Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program  which allows federal agencies to  bypass older workers and hire  young workers.  How can we expect private employers to obey the law when the federal government doesn’t?

In our discussion, I  equated the failure to pass the POWADA to the “Broken Window” theory, which holds that a broken window in a neighborhood is an invitation to thieves because it shows the neighborhood is overlooked and neglected. If older Americans can’t expect equal rights in the courts, how can they expect equal rights elsewhere?

One of the AARP officials sent me an email a few days later thanking me for my interest but stating that the AARP was already doing some of the things on my list. Whatever that means?

The AARP takes credit every year that Congress fails to cut Social Security. The AARP Foundation monitors Congress and the legal team files amicus or friend of the court briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases and represents a select few individual s in lawsuits involving age discriminaton. But that obviously is not enough.  If it were, the POWADA would be law.

The POWADA hasn’t even made it out of committee for five years.  The failure to pass the POWADA reflects astounding ignorance and inexcusable neglect. No one  has come forward to oppose the POWADA because that would be like opposing equal rights for older Americans. The immediate passage of the POWADA is the absolute minimum that older workers should expect.  Even that will not improve the situation significantly because the ADEA is still hopelessly flawed. Older workers  are denied the same level of protection that is provided under Title VII. I have advocated scrapping the ADEA and making age a protected class under Title VII.

Hoovers estimates the value of the AARP, Inc., which sells medical insurance and travel products to an estimated 37 million members, to be more than $1.34 billion.  Shouldn’t older Americans be getting more bang from their bucks. What’s wrong with this picture?

Alternate Ways to Advocate for Older Workers

For years, older workers in the United States have been subject to epidemic, unaddressed age discrimination.

I recently wrote a book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, which lays out the problem in graphic and undeniable detail. Older workers have far fewer rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act than do protected groups under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  Also, the U.S. Congress and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have virtually ignored an unprecedented rise in age discrimination complaints since the onset of the Great Recession.

To my knowledge, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace is the first book to seriously examine the systemic nature of age discrimination in the workplace in modern times.  It makes a compelling case for change. Yet, in recent weeks, I have contacted numerous officials at the organization that is widely believed to be the chief advocacy group for older Americans.  Among others, I emailed the president of the AARP, the director of the AARP Foundation, and the head of the AARP Foundation Legal Section. I have received no response.

Given the overwhelming apathy toward age discrimination in the workplace in the United States, how can older workers create the necessary incentives to improve public policy and the law?

Two countries, Australia and Denmark, have taken a far more aggressive approach to age discrimination in employment than the United States.

Australia appointed its first Age Discrimination Commissioner on July 30, 2011 to a five-year term. Commissioner Susan Ryan recently commissioned the first “national prevalence survey” on age discrimination in the workplace. “[T]his new survey will provide the first national picture, reporting the experiences of people who have been discriminated against, and employers large and small … It will provide a strong basis for better policy and for more positive action by employers and government.”  This type of survey is desperately needed in the United States, where age discrimination is hidden by catch-phrases like  “long-term unemployment” and “early retirement.”

Another model worthy of examination exists in Denmark. The DaneAge Association is an independent, non-profit national membership organization founded in 1986 to provide advocacy “through an ongoing dialogue with the government and the public, promoting a society without age barriers and ageism.”  DaneAge has 690,000 members in 217 Local chapters across Denmark, including 15,775 volunteers who engaged in local advocacy. Among other things, the organization, which has approximately 100 staff members,  provides “free-of-charge and impartial legal advice and counsel” by lawyers and other professionals. Denmark is widely regarded as having the highest quality of life  for its citizens in the world.

For years, older workers in America have been dumped into the quicksand of long-term unemployment, relegated to menial and poorly paid work and, finally, forced into a penurious and unwanted early retirement.  This is because the ADEA was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Congress must  insure  that  older workers  at least have the same level of protection against employment discrimination that is afforded to protected groups under Title VII.  An  discrimination commissioner could champion the rights of older workers. By contrast, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  received more than 21,000 complaints of age discrimination last year and filed only SEVEN lawsuits with age discrimination claims.  And older workers deserve to have an independent, non–profit  advocacy group that will aggressively fight for the rights of older workers in the halls of Congress and across the nation.

WANTED: Advocacy Group to Help Older Workers

The Time For Action is Long Overdue

What advocacy group exists today to fight age discrimination in the workplace?

My first thought was the AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, which has an estimated 37 million members. The AARP is said to be one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. But it is in the business of selling health insurance to retired people, not equality in the workplace.

The AARP has a non-profit foundation that exists to advocate for older Americans. It says it helps “struggling seniors by being a force for change on the most serious issues they face today.” The web site of the AARP Foundation has lots of opportunities to “donate today” and “ways to give.” It claims to be “a voice and an advocate.” Here are the articles under “AARP Foundation in the News”  on Oct. 6, 2014:

  • How to manage your money better after 50.
  • The people of Haiti thank AARP members.
  • AARP Foundation invites NASCAR fans to ‘Ride with Jeff.”
  • Couples say relationships benefit from volunteering together..

Considering the serious issues facing older workers today, this is the equivalent of marshmallow fluff on burnt toast.  Efforts to reach Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson and other Foundation officials through their web site were unsuccessful.

Who Cares?

Who advocates for older workers who are unemployed, floundering in long-term unemployment, and working in poorly-paid part-time jobs with no benefits? Research shows that millions of older workers have been forced into a penurious early retirement since the Great Recession because they can’t get jobs.  This hasn’t stopped Congress from debating cuts to Social Security. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has virtually ignored a record increase in age discrimination complaints. Despite receiving more than 20,000 complaints in 2013, the EEOC filed only a handful of lawsuits with age discrimination claims.

The thesis of my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, is that the major U.S. law prohibiting age discrimination was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no question that older workers are literally treated like second class citizens in our nation’s court system. Who cares?

The AARP Foundation has a legal arm that files friend of the court briefs and purportedly represents plaintiffs in age discrimination lawsuits.  However, the problems facing older workers will not be resolved in the federal courts, which are demonstrably hostile to all employment discrimination lawsuits.

Older Americans must demand their representatives in the U.S. Congress address the epidemic of age discrimination.  For five years, Congress has failed even to pass the Protection Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which would merely eliminate one of many inequities facing older workers compared workers who are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 issued a mean-spirited and unnecessary decision requiring  older workers to meet a much higher level of proof in age discrimination cases than exists for discrimination victims who file claims under Title VII.  No one has put forth any credible justification for treating age discrimination victims worse than other discrimination victims. The failure of Congress to address this harmful injustice also reflects the lack of an effective advocacy groups for older workers.

One would have hoped that our nation’s first African-American president, Barack H. Obama, would show some sensitivity to the problem of age discrimination. He made the problem incrementally worse when he signed an executive order in 2010 that permits government agencies to bypass older workers in favor of hiring younger workers. The justification for this program is that the government was incapable of competing with the private sector for younger workers during the worst recession in 100 years.  Really?

What American workers need  now is an advocacy group that will lobby the U.S. Congress to restore their rights.  We need an organization that has a strategy and a plan to create positive change.  If the AARP Foundation wants to continue to collect money to advocate for the rights of older workers, individuals and grant organizations, it should demand  action on Capital Hill.  If this is too uncomfortable for the offspring of a behemoth medical sales organization, then we need a new organization that is willing to do the job.