Leahy Joins In Introducing Bipartisan Legislation To Protect Older Workers From Discrimination

Sen. Patrick Leahy has joined Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ranking Member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging; Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging; and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), in introducing the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA).  A Supreme Court ruling in 2009 held that age discrimination claims must prove that discrimination was not just a motivating factor but the sole or overriding factor in an adverse employment decision.  This put a higher burden on older workers alleging age discrimination than on those alleging discrimination based on race, sex, national origin or religion. The new bill by Leahy and other senators would level the playing field for older workers by restoring the pre-2009 legal standards for age discrimination claims, ensuring that everyone has equal access to the courts and reinforcing the essential principle that no amount of age discrimination is acceptable in the workplace.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).  While the ADEA marked an important step in protecting older workers from discrimination and has provided essential protections to millions of workers for decades, discrimination on the basis of age remains a significant problem.  An AARP study conducted in 2013 found that about two thirds of older workers say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.

“All Americans deserve the right to safe conditions and equal rights under the law in their workplaces,” Senator Leahy said.  “The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) reinforces these fundamental rights for our nation’s seniors in particular – rights which were severely restricted in the Supreme Court’s Gross v. FBL Financial decision.  I have long worked to defend the vital protections of the Civil Rights Act, and POWADA is a clearly needed extension of these protections.  We must continue to remedy workplace discrimination, and that is all the more necessary when it comes to discrimination against those who are most vulnerable.”

The legislation restores the ability of older workers to take legal action when age discrimination affected their professional opportunities.  It also reaffirms that workers may use any type of admissible evidence to prove their claims.

AARP has endorsed the new bill, and in a letter supporting its introduction in 2013, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond said:  “Until Congress passes this bill, too many older workers who have been victims of age discrimination will be denied a fair shake in our justice system. . . . The persistence of age discrimination in its many forms remains a significant barrier to older Americans’ retirement security.”

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