05.06.10

Leahy Presses For Immediate Action To Restore Protections For Older Workers

...Bill Will Address Supreme Court Decision In Age Discrimination Case

WASHINGTON (Thursday, May 6, 2010) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday urged the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to quickly consider legislation to restore vital civil rights protections for older workers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Gross v. FBL Financial.  Leahy and HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act in October.

Leahy urged prompt consideration of the legislation in a statement submitted at a HELP Committee hearing Thursday.

“In Gross, a divided Court thwarted congressional intent, overturned well-established precedent, and delivered a major blow to the ability of older workers to fight age discrimination, just as it eliminated Lilly Ledbetter’s claim to equal pay, until Congress stepped in to set the law right,” said Leahy.  “In these tough economic times, millions of Americans are concerned with the security of their jobs. We cannot let the Supreme Court’s wrong-headed decision stand in the way of the financial security of American families.  I urge the committee to move without delay to protect our most experienced workers.”

The Protecting Older Workers Against Age Discrimination is currently pending before the HELP Committee.

Leahy has chaired a series of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee about the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions on the lives of hardworking Americans.  Last October, he chaired a hearing about the Gross decision, where the Supreme Court rewrote civil rights laws and overturned well-established precedent to make it harder for workers facing age discrimination to enforce their rights.  In the case, a jury concluded that age had been a motivating factor in the demotion of Jack Gross, a worker for 32 years at an Iowa subsidiary of a major financial company.  The Court’s decision, which reversed the jury’s verdict, has already had reverberations in a wide range of cases beyond age discrimination.  Mr. Gross testified before the Leahy-chaired panel in October, and appeared Thursday morning at the HELP Committee hearing.

The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act will reverse the Gross decision to restore the law to what it was for decades before the Court rewrote the rule.  The Act makes clear that when a victim shows discrimination was a “motivating factor” behind a decision, the burden is properly on the employer to show it complied with the law.   The bill is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1991.  Among other things, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 codified the “motivating factor” framework for race, sex, national origin and religion discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act will make clear that this “motivating factor” framework applies to all anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws – treating all workers, and all forms of discrimination, equally.

The bill is supported by the AARP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Senior Citizens Law Center and the National Women’s Law Center. 

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

On The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act

May 6, 2010

I am pleased to join Senator Harkin in supporting the “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act,” and I thank him for scheduling this hearing today so that we can move this important civil rights legislation.  Our legislation is necessitated by the Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Gross v. FBL Financial, where five justices decided to change the standard that American workers must prove in age discrimination cases. 

In Gross, a divided Court thwarted congressional intent, overturned well-established precedent, and delivered a major blow to the ability of older workers to fight age discrimination, just as it eliminated Lilly Ledbetter’s claim to equal pay, until Congress stepped in to set the law right.  After spending 32 years working for an Iowa subsidiary of a major financial company, Jack Gross was demoted, and his job duties were reassigned to a younger worker who was significantly less qualified.  In his lawsuit under the Age Discrimination Act, a jury concluded that age had been a motivating factor in his demotion and awarded him nearly $50,000 in lost compensation. 

However, a narrow majority of Court unabashedly rewrote civil rights laws, making it harder for workers facing age discrimination to enforce their rights.  The Court ruled that it is no longer enough for a victim of discrimination to prove that age was a motivating factor in an adverse employment decision.  Now, an employee must prove that it was the decisive factor.  This means that victims of age discrimination face a higher burden than those alleging race, sex, national origin or religious discrimination.   I am concerned that those protections will also be weakened by the Supreme Court as a result of their decision in Mr. Gross’ case.

Mr. Gross appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year.  His compelling testimony reaffirmed the need for this important legislation.  In these tough economic times, millions of Americans are concerned with the security of their jobs. We cannot let the Supreme Court’s wrong-headed decision stand in the way of the financial security of American families.  I urge the committee to move without delay to protect our most experienced workers.

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