The Marginalization of Older Workers

I am  struck by the almost complete lack of attention paid in the United States to the problem of age discrimination in employment.

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I just watched a lengthy video on YouTube featuring Jenny Yang, chairperson of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), addressing the recent annual meeting of the European Network of Equality Bodies (Equinet), a group that promotes equality in the European Union. She discussed 50 years of the EEOC’s history and its future goals and aspirations. She made one fleeting reference to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1964 (ADEA), noting the EEOC is responsible for enforcing the ADEA.

In 2014, a tonoworkplacediscriminationtal of 20,588 complaints of age discrimination were filed with the EEOC. That represents 23.2 percent of all of the complaints of employment discrimination filed with the EEOC in 2014. And, that level of complaints has been more or less consistent for years. Age discrimination may not deserve to be the EEOC’s top priority but it should at least be on the EEOC’s radar screen.

A right that is not enforced is an illusion.

Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez has ignored age discrimination except to the extent that he endorsed it in the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a dubious effort by America’s major corporations to hire 100,000 workers age 16 to 24 for full and –part-time jobs in blatant violation of the ADEA.

And President Barack Obama not only forgot to bolster the ADEA but he fundamentally undermined the ADEA in 2010 when he signed an executive order that permits federal agencies to discriminate on the basis of age, thereby sending a signal to the private sector that age discrimination is A-Okay!

It is interesting to note that Equinet issued a report on ageism in 2012 in which it decried institutional practices that “include the use of age limits to govern access to services or participation in the workplace, other forms of discrimination that exclude older people from work or from key services, and inadequate policy responses to the situation of older people such that they find themselves marginalised and disadvantaged in society.”

In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I show indisputably that older workers are second class citizens under the laws of the United States. One reason is that the ADEA was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. So it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for workers to prevail in an age discrimination lawsuit.  I urge Congress to make age a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 so that older workers at least have the same rights as other discrimination victims. Age was initially proposed for inclusion in Title VII but Congress felt more study was needed.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union does not make a distinction between age discrimination and other types of discrimination. Why does the U.S.?

According to Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU: “Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.”

Author: pgb

Attorney at Law, author and blogger.

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