DEAR U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR SECRETARY THOMAS E. PEREZ:
I see that you have given your imprimatur to a new hiring initiative by more than a dozen major American corporations that seems on its face to blatantly violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
Starbucks, Microsoft and Walmart, among others, recently announced the “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” to hire 100,000 16- to 24-year-olds by 2018. The program appears to be an end run around the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which prohibits age discrimination in hiring.
You are quoted in a press release on Starbucks’ web site as stating, “The corporate leaders championing the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative recognize that promoting career opportunities for youth is a win-win, and I hope more employers will follow their lead.”
The press release states the initiative includes apprenticeships, internships, training programs, and “both part-time and full-time jobs.” The ADEA unambiguously states that it is unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire” any individual “because of such individual’s age.”
The corporations are couching the initiative as a well-intentioned effort to help young people “who face systemic barriers to jobs and education.” Yet, federal law does not allow employers to discriminate because of supposedly good intentions.
The Obama Administration and the DOL should support programs that, for example, prepare high school drop-outs for careers rather than sanction age discrimination by America’s largest corporations.
As I’m sure you know, younger workers do not have a monopoly on systemic barriers to jobs and education. The unemployment rate is high at both ends of the age spectrum but older workers often are forced out of the workplace by age discrimination. Many are dumped into a financially ill-advised “early retirement” as a result of disproportionate long-term, chronic unemployment. A recent report by AARP found that half of the people in the U.S. between the ages of 45 to 70 who lost their job during the last five years are still not working. Older workers who are forced to retire at age 62 incur at least a 25 percent cut in Social Security benefits for the rest of their lives. Age discrimination literally consigns many older Americans (especially women and minorities) to a life sentence of poverty or near poverty .
It is unfortunate that the corporations participating in this initiative refer indirectly to President Barack Obama’s 2010 executive order establishing the Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program, which permits federal agencies engage in age discrimination. The press release announcing the “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” begins this way: “Top U.S. – Based Companies Create Pathways to Economic Opportunity for Young Americans.” This executive order arguably operates as a legal exemption to the ADEA for federal sector employers but does not permit private sector corporations to violate the ADEA.
You may ask – why would older workers want entry-level jobs? Author Michael Gates Gill wrote a best-selling book in 2007 entitled, “How Starbucks Saved My Life.” At age 53, Gill found himself chronically unemployed after being laid off from a high-paid job at an ad agency. He had no health insurance and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His salvation was a job as an entry-level employee at Starbucks. Today, as a result of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, Gill would find a sign on Starbucks’ door stating: Older Workers Need Not Apply.
Please reassess your support for the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, which really is just a pragmatic effort by big corporations to recruit and train young workers without having to bother with older workers who are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.
I understand you are a former civil rights attorney. I am sure you know that age discrimination is no different from any other type of employment discrimination. Age discrimination, like discrimination on the basis of race, sex or religion, is founded on false and harmful stereotypes, fear and animus directed toward a discrete group. I can’t imagine the DOL would support an initiative by America’s biggest corporations to hire only whites, men or Christians. It is no more acceptable to support discrimination against older workers.
Respectfully, Patricia G. Barnes, J.D., author of Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace.