Point of View

Age discrimination is both a real and solvable problem in North Carolina

March 31, 2014 

It happens all too often. Despite a lifetime of hard work and excellent reviews, older workers find themselves out of a job or in a reduced position. A 2013 AARP study found that nearly 2 in 3 workers ages 45-74 said they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Nearly 20 percent believed they were not hired for a job because of their age, and nearly 10 percent believed they were laid off or fired due to their age.

And when they seek legal recourse about age discrimination, they face another roadblock because a Supreme Court decision made it harder to prove age discrimination than discrimination based on race, religion or gender. It’s time for Congress to restore older workers’ rights that were lost due to the court’s ruling.

AARP has strongly endorsed the bipartisan Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. This legislation would remedy the Supreme Court’s unfair 2009 decision in the case of Gross v. FBL Financial Services. That decision reduced older workers to second-class status when they try to defend their rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which bars discrimination against workers age 40 and over.

Age discrimination is a key reason it takes older laid-off workers almost a year, on average, to find another job. When they do land new jobs, it’s often for less money, which can have a devastating effect on older workers’ long-term financial security and ability to live independently as they age.

For more than a half-century, AARP has been fighting against age discrimination. AARP is working to ensure every American worker is treated fairly on the job, regardless of age, and is calling on the Senate to restore these protections. Our efforts are more important today than ever before – with so many older workers having been hit especially hard by the recession.

Here in North Carolina, Richard Hatch of Cary had more than a hunch that age was a factor when he was not considered for a job that was a perfect match for his work experience. When Hatch was 61, he applied for a position as a lawyer for a large employer in the Raleigh area. Although he was distinguished in the areas of law the company was seeking, Hatch was denied even a chance to interview. It was only after he filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission that the company agreed to speak to him.

By requiring older workers to prove that age was the decisive reason for their treatment, rather than one reason among many, the Supreme Court’s decision in the Gross case signals to employers that they can get away with at least some amount of age discrimination. Passing the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act is critical to restoring the full protections of our age discrimination laws.

Doug Dickerson is director of AARP North Carolina.

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