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AARP Strongly Supports New Bipartisan Senate Bill to Fight Age Discrimination

Legislation by Senators Harkin, Grassley, Leahy Would Remedy Flawed Supreme Court Decision in Gross Case

March 13, 2012

AARP Media Relations

AARP Strongly Supports New Bipartisan Senate Bill to Fight Age Discrimination

Legislation by Senators Harkin, Grassley, Leahy Would Remedy Flawed Supreme Court Decision in Gross Case

Washington, DC – AARP announced today its strong endorsement of bipartisan legislation to combat age discrimination and defend the rights of older individuals in the workplace.

The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin, Chuck Grassley, and Patrick Leahy, is designed to remedy a flawed 2009 decision (Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.) by the U.S. Supreme Court that made it far more difficult for older workers to prove claims of illegal bias based on age.

Senator Harkin (D-IA) is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Leahy (D-VT) is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Grassley (R-IA) is Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee.

“Iowa Senators Harkin and Grassley, now joined by Chairman Leahy, have done painstaking work in developing this crucial legislation,” said Nancy LeaMond, Executive Vice President of AARP today, in making the announcement. “Until Congress passes this remedial bill, too many older workers who have been victims of age discrimination will be denied a fair shake because of the Gross decision.”

The legislative proposal responds to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in June, 2009, that heightened the standard that older workers have to meet in bringing employment discrimination claims; the restrictive decision has since been applied by some courts in other types of employment discrimination cases, undermining the rights of even more workers.

For decades, if a worker showed that age was one motivating factor in an adverse employment decision, even if other motives also played a role, the employer had to prove that it had taken the action for a valid reason instead of illegal age discrimination. After the Gross decision, employees no longer have that option; instead they must prove that the employer would not have taken the adverse action “but for” their age – in other words, that age played the determining role – a significantly higher standard of proof.

Introduction of the bill is especially welcome at this difficult time for older workers. The unemployment rate for persons aged 55 and older has declined from Great Recession levels but remains high. And the average duration of unemployment for older workers still is at a staggering level – more than one year, well above the average for workers in younger age groups.

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against workers 40 years or older in all aspects of employment. AARP surveys over the past decade consistently have shown that at least 60 percent of those interviewed say they have either personally faced or observed age discrimination in the workplace.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with over 35.1 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's millions of members and Americans 50+; AARP VIVA, our bilingual multimedia platform for Hispanic members; and our website, AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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