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Legislation Introduced to Better Protect Older Workers

The bipartisan measure would help employees battle age discrimination

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Legislation introduced on Thursday would help restore federal age-discrimination protections in the workplace that lawmakers and advocates say were eroded by the Supreme Court. 

The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) was introduced by bipartisan teams of legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. POWADA effectively would reverse a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it more difficult for older workers to prove they were discriminated against because of their age. 

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The 1967 federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers age 40 and older from being forced out of jobs or denied employment due to their age. But in a 2009 ruling (Gross v. FBL Financial Services Inc.), the high court said that in order to prove illegal bias, older workers have to show that their age was a decisive factor in the employer’s decision to discipline, fire or not hire them. 

That standard poses a much higher bar than the courts require for other forms of discrimination, such as those based on race, sex, national origin or religion. POWADA clearly states that victims of age discrimination do not have to demonstrate that age was a critical reason for the employer’s action in order to prove their case.

“We commend these lawmakers for sponsoring this crucial legislation,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. “Too many older workers have been victims of unfair age discrimination and are denied a fair shake in our justice system. The time for Congress to act is now.” 

POWADA is sponsored in the House by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and is supported by Reps. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), Will Hurd (R-Texas) and John Katko (R-N.Y.). In the Senate the bill is being sponsored by Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and is supported by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

AARP research has found that many older workers experience age bias on the job. More than 60 percent of workers age 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination, and 76 percent say that they consider age discrimination to be a major obstacle to finding a new job. What's more, 1 in 4 older workers have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or coworkers. More than 9 in 10 agree that older workers should be protected against age discrimination as strongly as people are protected against other types of discrimination and support efforts to strengthen the law.

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