Well-established laws to prevent age discrimination on the job suffered a blow last year when a Supreme Court ruling undermined that protection. Now, new legislation aims to level the workplace playing field for older employees.
In last year's case, Jack Gross v. FBL Financial Services, the court stated that workers need to bear a higher burden of proof to show age discrimination. Gross sued after he was demoted and his job was taken by a younger employee.
Before the Gross ruling, an employee had only to prove that age was one motivating factor in firings and demotions. But the Supreme Court held 5-4 that employees who sue their employers for age discrimination must establish that age was the deciding factor in such actions.
Dozens of Democrats — including Rep. George Miller of California and Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Patrick Leahy of Vermont — are backing a bill called POWADA (Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act) that is working its way through the legislative process. Harkin and Leahy are attracting support from some Republicans.
AARP policy chief John Rother said that the Harkin-Leahy-Miller legislation is designed to restore the accepted interpretation of age discrimination in employment — one that businesses have worked with for years.
"At a time when a poor economy is resulting in a record number of age discrimination claims, it's urgent that this corrective legislation be passed," Rother said, adding that the bill is supported by business and aging advocates.