AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) is an advocate in courts nationwide for the rights of people 50 and older, addressing diverse legal issues that affect their daily lives and assuring that they have a voice in the judicial system.
Mary Ellen Signorille, Senior Attorney
The AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) Employee Benefits Team works on issues pertaining to benefits generally provided through the employment relationship. These benefits include retirement plans, such as pensions, 401(k) plans, cash balance plans, and employer stock purchase and award programs, group insurance, including health insurance, life insurance and disability insurance.
With respect to the work the team does on retirement plan matters, in the defined benefit plan area the focus is on vesting and vested benefits, and the protection of accrued benefits. Issues often arise regarding covered services, and whether a break in service limits or interferes with vesting of benefits. As to 401(k) plans, the fees associated with plan investments are a very important subject. The formula used to calculate cash balance plan accounts are also of great significance. The team also works on cases that involve unfair benefit eligibility determinations by group insurance plans.
The AFL Investor Protection Team works on issues pertaining to financial investment products such as mutual funds, stocks, bonds, annuities and variations of these financial instruments that are repackaged for purchase on the public securities markets and privately through brokers, financial advisers and insurance agents. Historically, there are various forms of deceptive practices associated with the sale of such products.
The team’s work involves products that are bought both inside and outside of retirement plans, and securities that trade on the public securities markets. Many of the cases arise out of misrepresentations that are part of a financial fraud scheme of one sort or another. Whether the matter concerns an unlawful effort to manipulate the market price of a publicly traded security or an attempt to market a predatory financial product, the team seeks cases that are likely to affect large groups of investors.
Daniel Kohrman, Senior Attorney
Laurie McCann, Senior Attorney
Dara Smith, Attorney
The AFL Employment Discrimination Team’s efforts focus on challenging age discrimination in employment under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), as well as state antidiscrimination laws. In addition, because age discrimination may be compounded by discrimination based on race, sex, national origin or disability, the team works on cases that involve Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans With Disability Act (ADA).
The team has worked on cases involving discrimination against older workers in hiring promotions, training opportunities, reductions-in-force, unfair waivers or releases of older workers’ rights, and age-based reduction or elimination of employee benefits, including early retirement incentives. Because a disproportionate number of those discriminated against because of disability are older workers, the team has challenged unduly restrictive judicial interpretations of the ADA.
The overarching goal of the team is to ensure that ageism and unfair treatment of older workers are perceived by society to be as serious and wrong as other forms of discrimination, and to make certain that the protections for older workers, especially under the ADEA and state antidiscrimination laws, provide rights and remedies that are at a minimum on parity with those of other civil rights laws.
Susan Ann Silverstein, Senior Attorney
Julie Nepveu, Senior Attorney
The AFL Housing and Livable Communities Team’s work focuses on aging in place. The vast majority of people 50 and older prefer to remain in their homes as they age. Their ability to age in place depends on the availability of affordable and accessible housing. The team participates in housing, transportation and land-use cases that support livable communities through enforcement of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and other federal, state and local civil rights laws. The team has worked to ensure that there is an adequate supply of low-income housing by working on defending existing laws that maintain reasonable rent increases in manufactured home parks, as well as state and local laws supporting rental vouchers. The team challenges reductions and restrictions that financially affect residents of public housing and assisted housing. The team also works to ensure that tenancy rules are applied fairly.
In order to age in place in the community, housing must allow delivery of personal care services. Design and construction standards creating accessible, visitable or universal design dwellings are important. Residents must be able to obtain reasonable accommodations to rules and policies or permission to make physical modifications to the premises. The team has been especially involved in housing cases where the housing provider has categorically refused to allow such assistance — for instance, housing authorities that have refused to allow family members to serve as live-in aides or assisted living facilities (ALF) that have not allowed private attendants or mobility devices.
Barbara Jones, Senior Attorney
Susan Ann Silverstein, Senior Attorney
The AFL Low Income Benefits Team works on cases that assist older people in obtaining the government benefits to which they are entitled. As such, the team has filed numerous amicus briefs in state and federal courts in a variety of benefit cases, including but not limited to Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), disability, veterans benefits and foster care benefits (when the foster parent is a related grandparent or other relative).
Julie Nepveu, Senior Attorney
The AFL Consumer and Utilities Team focuses on combating predatory financial services products and unfair and deceptive practices that are used to sell them.
In the home mortgage area, the team’s cases involve challenges to predatory lending that underlies many foreclosures taking place today. The cases contest the legality of the toxic mortgage products that dominated the subprime market for many years; the targeting of vulnerable populations for the sale of these products; and the marketing of the products through deceptive practices. In non-mortgage lending areas, the team’s cases focus on ensuring that lenders and debt collectors follow the rules. The team’s cases seek to protect consumers from being charged excessive or unfair interest rates and fees. The team works to protect exempt benefits and other income from unfair debt collection practices.
The team also seeks to protect injured consumer’s access to courts and to enhance compliance with legal protections against unfair and deceptive practices in the marketplace through the deterrent value of litigation. The team challenges the inclusion of binding mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer contracts that make it difficult or impossible for people with small money claims to access the courts.
The team also works to protect vulnerable people from unaffordable utilities. The team files briefs in courts reviewing decisions of utility regulators to ensure they protect the ratepayers from unfair rate increases. The team advocates for greater protection for electricity consumers to ensure that the vulnerable are able to access this necessary service as smart meters are installed across the country. The team works on cases to ensure that tenants pay no more than required for utilities in federally subsidized tenancies.
Kelly Bagby, Senior Attorney
Maame Gyamfi, Senior Attorney
Iris Gonzalez, Senior Attorney
Andrew Strickland, Attorney
The AFL Health Team focuses on issues designed to help older persons access affordable and quality health care and long-term services and supports, particularly benefits under Medicare and Medicaid. Consistent with this effort, the team challenges fraudulent practices that drive up the cost of health care and endanger the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
The team also challenges high prescription drug costs. For example, the team has filed amicus curiae briefs supporting state efforts to reign in pharmaceutical marketing practices that cause high costs, and in almost every significant patent case impacting prescription drug affordability in the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years. The team's attorneys continue to challenge the practice of “reverse payment” or “pay-for-delay” settlements, where pharmaceutical giants that hold the patent to expensive brand-name drugs pay generic drug makers to delay entry of less expensive generic drugs into the marketplace.
To help older and disabled persons age in place, the team works on cases that seek to rebalance the long-term care system to increase use of home and community-based services (also called HCBS) to help older people avoid being forced to receive long-term services and supports (LTSS) in institutional settings such as nursing homes. AFL pursues cases enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act under the landmark case Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999) (“Olmstead”) against states that are most reliant on institutional care for Medicaid recipients receiving LTSS. Olmstead requires states to provide services in the most integrated community setting. AARP’s research demonstrates that older persons prefer to age at home and that HCBS is less expensive than nursing facility services. As some states face budget constraints, they are seeking short-term fixes, including making draconian cuts to their Medicaid-funded community-based services. The team has successfully prevented such cuts through litigation on behalf of people who would be placed at risk of entering a nursing home if such cuts were implemented.
AFL has filed amcius briefs opposing pre-dispute binding mandatory arbitration provisions in nursing home admission agreements. The arbitration provisions serve as an absolute bar to a person’s access to court even when there is a highly meritorious claim. In a related area, the team has filed amicus briefs in state courts challenging caps on damages for noneconomic injuries in medical malpractice and other personal injury cases. These are damages for things such as pain and suffering, permanent disfigurement and loss of the companionship of a spouse, all very important to an older person whose future income will be limited because they are either at or nearing the end of their years of employment.