Int’l Group Recognizes New Book on Age Discrimination

IFA

The International Federation on Ageing (IFA) has recognized my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace.

The IFA is a non-governmental, non-profit organization based in Toronto, Canada that works to inform, educate and promote policies and practice that improve the quality of life of older persons around the world.

An article on the IFA notes that Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, addresses the “epidemic” of age discrimination in the workforce in the United States, a problem that often catapults older workers into a penurious, unwanted and ill-advised “early retirement.”

The IFA published a Declaration of the Rights and Responsibilities of Older Persons in 1990 detailing the rights of older people to care, dignity, self-fulfillment, participation and independence. This document is the foundation of the UN principles of Older Persons, adopted in December 1991. The IFA has General Consultative Status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The IFA is part of a wide-ranging network of member organizations around the world which extends to over 70 countries covering every region. Together these organizations represent over 55 million older people.

 

HR Doesn’t Work for Workplace Abuse Victims

Jian

This blog initially began with a rhetorical question – how do perpetrators of domestic violence act when they report for work?

I was reminded of this when I read about the travails of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio broadcaster, Jian Ghomeshi, 47, who was fired recently because he allegedly brutally assaulted three much younger women under the auspices of “rough sex.”

The Toronto Star also reported that a CBC staffer who worked on Ghomeshi’s show, Q,  complained to the CBC of verbal and sexual harassment by Ghomeshi. According to the Star:

“She never dated Ghomeshi. She alleges he approached her from behind and cupped her rear end in the Q studio, and that he quietly told her at a story meeting that he wanted to “hate f—” her.

The woman said she complained about Ghomeshi’s behaviour to her union representative, who took the complaint to a Q producer. As the woman recalls, the producer asked her “what she could do to make this a less toxic workplace” for herself. No further action was taken by the CBC, and the woman left the broadcaster shortly thereafter.”

What could the CBC have done to make the workplace less toxic? Really? And this is a unionized workplace?

Victims of workplace discrimination, harassment and abuse often find a deaf ear when they complain to the Human Resources Department. It’s obvious that HR exists at management’s pleasure, to protect management, and not to protect victims of workplace abuse. No matter how many anti-harassment policies are place, that is the bottom line.  Ghomeshi was a major talent at CBC and his subordinate wasn’t.

The question that began this blog is rhetorical because we all know that when abusers go to work they do not stop being abusers. Abuse is about exerting undue  power and control in relationships, whether it be with a partner or a co-worker or subordinate.  That’s why workers everywhere need laws to protect them from workplace abuse and they need courts that are willing to enforce those laws when employer’s won’t.  Maybe some day?

According to the Star, none of the four women the paper interviewed have ever filed a police complaint against Mr. Ghomeshi, and none of them agreed to go on the record. The women said they are afraid that if they come forward, they will be sued or become victims of vicious online attacks, the paper reported.

The Lack of Equal Justice for All

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There was an article in the New York Times recently about the elusiveness of justice for African-Americans in the criminal justice system.

This obviously reflects ingrained racism but it is also a symptom of a wider problem – the lack of equal justice for the poor and the middle class in America.

The leadership of our nation’s civil and criminal justice system, the U.S. Supreme Court, does not serve as a role model for equal justice for all. And the U.S. Congress, which holds the power of the purse-strings over the judicial branch, provides no discernible oversight as to how the court system spends taxpayer money.

An egregious example of the wider problem is  the U.S. Supreme Court‘s refusal to allow its proceedings to be broadcast. This is really an issue about transparency and accountability.  The leadership of the third branch of government in the world’s leading democracy has chosen not to be transparent and or accountable. And if you don’t like it, tough!

The Court’s disdainful attitude toward the American public was not acceptable after television attained broad popularity fifty years ago and it is completely unacceptable in the Internet age. The Court exists to serve the public, not the Court.  This doesn’t mean the Court is subject to the whims of the majority but that the Court must be guided by founding American principles of equality and justice for all.

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I focus on the civil justice system, which  has utterly failed to protect older workers from irrational and harmful age discrimination. This is particularly true for vulnerable older workers (i.e. minorities and women).

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has made it almost impossible to win a federal age discrimination lawsuit. Age discrimination has become normalized in American society and is trickling down to ever younger workers (i.e., the youth apartheid state of Silicon Valley).  But younger workers have years to rebound, while older workers often are plunged into a penurious old age of deprivation.

I suggest the judiciary create a special federal court to hear appeals in  discrimination cases. This court could be staffed with federal judges who are both educated in and dedicated to the concept of equal justice. This court would not be limited to age discrimination but would decide appeals in all cases alleging discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation and disability, etc.

Age discrimination represents a kind of government subsidy for employers, by allowing them to replace more expensive older workers with cheap young labor. Taxpayers  pick up the tab in the form of higher social welfare costs, including health care and Social Security benefits.  I doubt that most taxpayers would want to pay this subsidy if they knew they were paying it.

Alternate Ways to Advocate for Older Workers

Denmark

For years, older workers in the United States have been subject to epidemic, unaddressed age discrimination.

I recently wrote a book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, which lays out the problem in graphic and undeniable detail. Older workers have far fewer rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act than do protected groups under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  Also, the U.S. Congress and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have virtually ignored an unprecedented rise in age discrimination complaints since the onset of the Great Recession.

To my knowledge, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace is the first book to seriously examine the systemic nature of age discrimination in the workplace in modern times.  It makes a compelling case for change. Yet, in recent weeks, I have contacted numerous officials at the organization that is widely believed to be the chief advocacy group for older Americans.  Among others, I emailed the president of the AARP, the director of the AARP Foundation, and the head of the AARP Foundation Legal Section. I have received no response.

Given the overwhelming apathy toward age discrimination in the workplace in the United States, how can older workers create the necessary incentives to improve public policy and the law?

Two countries, Australia and Denmark, have taken a far more aggressive approach to age discrimination in employment than the United States.

Australia appointed its first Age Discrimination Commissioner on July 30, 2011 to a five-year term. Commissioner Susan Ryan recently commissioned the first “national prevalence survey” on age discrimination in the workplace. “[T]his new survey will provide the first national picture, reporting the experiences of people who have been discriminated against, and employers large and small … It will provide a strong basis for better policy and for more positive action by employers and government.”  This type of survey is desperately needed in the United States, where age discrimination is hidden by catch-phrases like  “long-term unemployment” and “early retirement.”

Another model worthy of examination exists in Denmark. The DaneAge Association is an independent, non-profit national membership organization founded in 1986 to provide advocacy “through an ongoing dialogue with the government and the public, promoting a society without age barriers and ageism.”  DaneAge has 690,000 members in 217 Local chapters across Denmark, including 15,775 volunteers who engaged in local advocacy. Among other things, the organization, which has approximately 100 staff members,  provides “free-of-charge and impartial legal advice and counsel” by lawyers and other professionals. Denmark is widely regarded as having the highest quality of life  for its citizens in the world.

For years, older workers in America have been dumped into the quicksand of long-term unemployment, relegated to menial and poorly paid work and, finally, forced into a penurious and unwanted early retirement.  This is because the ADEA was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Congress must  insure  that  older workers  at least have the same level of protection against employment discrimination that is afforded to protected groups under Title VII.  An  discrimination commissioner could champion the rights of older workers. By contrast, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  received more than 21,000 complaints of age discrimination last year and filed only SEVEN lawsuits with age discrimination claims.  And older workers deserve to have an independent, non–profit  advocacy group that will aggressively fight for the rights of older workers in the halls of Congress and across the nation.