EEOC & AARP: The Willfully Blind leading the Willfully Blind?

You can’t make this stuff up.

The EEOC has announced that age discrimination will be a “special focus” of its major annual “training event” for employers  later this month to mark the 50th anniversary of enactment of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

The invited guest speaker is Jo Ann Jenkins, the CEO of the AARP, an organization that has done virtually nothing in 50 years to address the fundamental legal inequality of older workers in the United States and for years has accorded mere lip service  to the epidemic of age discrimination in employment that began during the Great Recession.

Of course, the EEOC under Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration also did virtually nothing about the problem of age discrimination in employment. The EEOC last year filed exactly two lawsuits with age discrimination claims, despite receiving more than 20,000 complaints of age discrimination. The EEOC today arguably does more to protect employers from the consequences of illegal age discrimination than it does to protect older workers from illegal age discrimination. It remains to be seen whether GOP President Donald Trump and EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A.  Lipnic will choose do any better.

The EEOC press release states the CEO of the AARP and the EEOC Acting Chair  will engage in a “candid conversation about age discrimination.”   Maybe they could start by explaining why both organizations have completely ignored the problem for decades.

I respectfully suggest  Jenkins and Lipnic obtain a copy of my groundbreaking book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, which candidly describes the epic failure of the federal government protect older workers from irrational and devastating age discrimination in employment. Up to now, both the EEOC and the AARP have  completely ignored the book, which received an excellent review from The ABA Commission on Law and Aging.

Compared to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADEA was weak when it was adopted in 1967 and it  was subsequently eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Congress has fiddled. Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin and color. Unlike Title VII, the ADEA permits “reasonable” age discrimination and provides  minimal damages. One federal circuit court has even ruled that job applicants have no protection from blatant age discrimination in hiring  under the ADEA.

According to the EEOC: “Jenkins has been described as a visionary ‘thought leader’ and a catalyst for breakthrough results at the nation’s largest social welfare organization with nearly 38 million members.”  Well, I suppose you  gotta give her credit for boosting AARP revenues. The AARP is literally making billions from the sale of health insurance to seniors, not to mention internet service, cruises, eyeglasses, dining deals, investment plans, smartphones, etc.

The  EXCEL (Examining Conflicts in Employment Laws) conference will be held in Chicago on June 27-29. The EEOC states it will provide “the employer community”  with tools and strategies to address emerging issues in equal employment opportunity.

The conference, described as the agency’s primary annual event, is geared toward EEO managers, supervisors, practitioners, HR professionals, attorneys, ADR specialists and other interested parties in both the federal and private sectors.

The EEOC Veered Sharply Away from Litigation in 2016

In 2016, the EEOC filed 34% fewer lawsuits than it filed in 2015, and there were drastic declines in some areas, notably an 85.7% decline in age discrimination lawsuits.

This is not good news for victims of discrimination in employment. Without the gravity and resources of the EEOC behind them, many individual discrimination victims are puny “Davids” facing international corporate “Goliaths.”

It appears the steep litigation decline – from 174 lawsuits in 2015 to 114 in 2016 –  is the result of the EEOC’s new emphasis on resolving individual complaints through voluntary mediation. However, mediation is a far better deal for employers than workers. For employers, mediation is a form of free dispute resolution that gets the EEOC off their back and eliminates the risk of massive damages and fees in a jury trial. For workers, mediation generally results in a modest financial settlement at best.

Many workers, especially those without counsel, do not fully understand their rights and the employer’s potential liability, or they cannot realistically fight for their rights because they have no money to wage a protracted court battle.

Mediation is a far better deal for discriminatory employers than it is for discrimination victims.

Here are the types and number of lawsuits filed by the EEOC in 2016 compared to 2015 and the percentage increase/decrease.

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967; Two lawsuits in 2016, compared to 14 in 2015 (a decrease of 85.7%).
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act  of 1964 (race, sex, religion, color and national origin): 46 lawsuits in 2016 compared to 83 in 2015 (a decrease of 44.5%).
  • Americans with Disability Act: 36 lawsuits in 2016 compared to 53 in 2015 (a decrease of 32%).
  • Equal Pay Act: Five lawsuits in 2016 compared to 7 in 2015 (a decrease of 28%).
  • Genetic Information Non-Discrimination  Act  Two lawsuits in 2016 compared to one in 2015 (an increase of 50%).

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Taxpayers Subsidize Age Discrimination by Feds

It is ironic that our nation’s largest employer, the U.S. government, is one of the worst offenders with respect to age discrimination in hiring.

President Barack Obama in 2010 unilaterally signed an executive order that allows federal agencies to by-pass older workers, ignore merit and qualifications, and to hire “recent graduates” and “entry-level jobseekers” for permanent federal jobs. Since the vast majority of recent graduates and entry-lvel job seekers are under the age of 40, Obama’s order has an obvious discriminatory impact on older workers. Yet, there was no public outcry when Obama signed this order – not from the AARP or the American Civil Liberties Union.

Obama couched his action in terms of increasing diversity in federal hiring but he offered no evidence that it was necessary to resort to age discrimination, which is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Obama’s order operates as an exemption to the ADEA. Furthermore, Obama’s order discriminates against older African Americans and Hispanics, as well as older whites.

Not surprisingly, older applicants face a mountain of discrimination when applying for lucrative federal positions.

James W. Moeller, then 57, filed a federal age discrimination lawsuit last year after he applied for several positions an attorney at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FEC) in Washington, DC. He was never  granted an interview despite the fact that he is a Harvard Law School graduate with 30 years of federal energy regulatory experience.  Moeller has represented clients before the FEC, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Maryland Public Service Commission. He is a leading scholar on federal energy regulatory law, having published numerous scholarly articles on the topic.

Meanwhile, the FEC granted interviews to younger, less qualified applicants, who were subsequently hired.

How come a guy like Moeller who objectively has superb qualifications could not even get an interview with the FEC? Could it be … uh … age discrimination?

Moeller’s  lawsuit states the FEC “claims that it cannot discriminate on the basis of age because it has no knowledge of the ages of its job applicants. This claim is based on the fact that job applicants generally do not include their dates of birth on their resumes.”  Moeller argues – and basic common sense dictates – that employers can infer the age of a job applicant based upon the applicant’s job history.

It is arguably a much greater failing for the federal government to discriminate against older workers because  we are shareholders in the enterprise through our tax dollars. In addition, discrimination by the federal government sends a signal to the private sector that age discrimination is acceptable and will be tolerated.

In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I explore other ways in which all three branches of the federal government have overlooked, abetted and trivialized age discrimination in employment. I also show how the ADEA provides far less protection for older workers than is provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to workers on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color and religion.

*See Moeller v. Bay, Case No, 1:15-cv-00724 (2015) U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Roadmap to Stop Harassment in the Workplace

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Fox CEO Roger Ailes, it is worth reviewing how to handle the problem of  harassment in the workplace.

Ailes, 76,was recently forced out of his position at the television network that he helped found because of complaints of sexual harassment that allegedly dated back for decades.

The EEOC created a select task force in January 2015 to study the general problem of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment. The task force, which included experts from around the country, issued a report last month recommending that employers actively promote an organizational culture of respect and civility.

The task force recommended:

  •  Employers should have a comprehensive anti-harassment policy that prohibits harassment based on any protected characteristic, and which includes social media considerations.
  • The anti-harassment policy should include details about how to complain of  and how to report harassment, must be communicated frequently to employees, in a variety of forms and methods.
  • Employers should provide reporting procedures that are multi-faceted, offering a range of methods, multiple points-of-contact, and geographic and organizational diversity where possible, for an employee to report harassment.
  • Employers should be alert for any possibility of retaliation against an employee who reports harassment and should take steps to ensure that such retaliation does not occur.
  • Employers should periodically “test” their reporting system to determine how well the system is working.
  • Employers should devote enough resources to insure that workplace investigations are prompt, objective, and thorough. Investigations should be kept as confidential as possible, recognizing that complete confidentiality or anonymity will not always be attainable.

Specific details about the report are available on the EEOC web site.

Almost a third of the 90,000 charges received by EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment, including charges of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color, and religion. And that is the tip of the iceberg. The EEOC reports that three out of four individuals who experienced harassment did not talk to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct because they feared disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.