The Sleeping Bear Awakens: The AARP Questions Legal Inequality of Older Workers

Something has poked the sleeping bear.

An attorney for the AARP was quoted in The New York Times recently as stating that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 “may not be up to the task.” This represents a profound shift for the AARP, which has done little in recent years (if anything) to acknowledge the fundamental legal inequality of older workers under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The AARP states on its web site that the ADEA was passed in 1967 with the  “strong backing” of the AARP.

In my 2013 book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I note the ADEA gives older workers far less protection than Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides to victims of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color and national origin. For example, the ADEA permits age discrimination if  it is based on a reasonable factor other than age (i.e., cost savings).  Title VII requires employers to show “business necessity” and to demonstrate there were no alternatives with less discriminatory impact.  Victims of age discrimination can recover only monetary damages and if there are none they get nothing.  Title VII plaintiffs are entitled to monetary damages plus  punitive and compensatory damages (i.e. damages for emotional distress).

Because of legal inequality,  millions of older workers have been forced out of the workplace and into an impoverished retirement since the Great Recession.

Mind you, there has never been any intellectual or moral justification for treating age discrimination differently than other types of discrimination – all discrimination is based on fear, false stereotypes, and animus directed toward a specific group. If workers are not capable of doing a job due to age-related decline, they can be dismissed. That’s not discrimination.

What Prompted The Change?

I contacted the AARP earlier this week to applaud the organization for finally acknowledging the ADEA “may not be up to the task” of preventing older workers from  irrational and harmful discrimination.  I then asked the AARP officials whether their position was influenced by my book, which is the first to challenge the fundamental legal inequality of older workers under the ADEA. I observed the AARP had never acknowledged the book – or a follow up companion work, Overcoming Age Discrimination in Employment –  despite my efforts to bring these works to the attention of the AARP and the readers of its publications. I said that capitalizing on my work without giving me credit is disrespectful and intellectually dishonest. The AARP officials insisted they have been working hard (sometimes behind the scenes) all these years to battle age discrimination in employment. They did not confirm or deny that my work had influenced their change of heart about the ADEA but suggested that “this should not be about who gets credit, but rather, about how best to improve the lives of older workers.”

This is about improving the lives of older workers but it is also about credit.

I care about credit for the same reason the AARP cares about its brand as the advocate for the rights of Americans over the age of 50. The AARP’s brand name establishes its credibility and helps the AARP sell Medi-gap health insurance and European vacations.

I suggested it would be appropriate for the AARP  to give credit where credit is due; that the AARP should do what it should have done in 2014 and acknowledge the publication of Betrayed; The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace  and the important ideas that are contained within the book.  These ideas appear to have been powerful enough to make the AARP question the insufficiency of the ADEA.

The AARP assured me that it has been as active as it can be in fighting age discrimination and wished me good luck in my future endeavors!

Now that the AARP  has acknowledged the ADEA may not be up to the task of protecting older workers, one can only hope the AARP will recognize other areas in which age discrimination has been legalized in the Untied States.  The AARP  was silent when former President Barack Obama in 2010 signed an executive order allowing our nation’s largest employer, the federal government, to blatantly discriminate in hiring on the basis of age and then again in 2015 when Obama’s Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, now chair of the Democratic Party, endorsed a private initiative by Starbucks and other major American corporations to hire only younger workers in clear violation of the ADEA.  I wrote about both of these issues in my employment law blogs, as well as the EEOC’s consistent failure to devote significant resources to prosecute age discrimination.  In the New York Times, it was reported: “Only two of the cases the E.E.O.C. filed in court last year involved the federal age discrimination act, according to a list assembled by AARP, the nonprofit older citizens group.” The reporter said the AARP’s list was assembled in July, about six months after I reported the EEOC had only filed two cases with age discrimination claims in 2016.  But who’s counting?

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. [Read more…]

AARP extols beach movies; Silent about discrimination

The AARP has been completely silent about the Obama administration’s recent endorsement of blatant age discrimination in employment by Starbucks, Walmart and Microsoft,  not to mention the hiring program operated by the federal government that blatantly discriminates against older workers.

So what does concern the AARP, which has 37 million members aged 50 and above and describes itself as the leading advocacy group for older Americans?

A Google search on Wednesday for “AARP” led to  AARP.org  (a.k.a. ‘AARP – Health, Travel Deals, Baby Boomers, Over 50, Online Games, Retirement Plans).  The AARP’s main web page today is focused on beach-themed movies and editorial copy that appears to lead to various AARP-branded commercial services that sell products related to caregiving, internet use, etc.

Yes, the AARP is trumpeting  beach movies:  “To mark the 50th anniversary of the Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon classic Beach Blanket Bingo, we take a look at 10 other beach movies that have a lot more to offer than surfboards and bongos.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the AARP was about more than surfboards and bongos?

Beach

AARP Profits While Older Workers Struggle

If only business was as good to America’s struggling older workers as it is for the AARP.

In 2010, the AARP had assets totaled $2,546,636,000. According to its 2013 Financial Report, the AARP’s assets had grown to $3,026,971,000 in 2012 and $3,393,94,000 in 2013.  By 2014,  the AARP’s  assets totaled $3,585,853,000.

That’s an 40.8 percent rise since 2010.

Meanwhile, a recent AARP survey showed that half of the people ages 45 to 70 who experienced unemployment during the past five years are not currently working. Fifty percent of survey respondents reported they were either unemployed or had dropped out of the labor force. Among those who had become reemployed, nearly half said they were earning less than in their previous jobs.

In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I show indisputably that older workers are suffering from unaddressed and epidemic age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Older workers have far less protection than their counterparts under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.  My attempts to interest the AARP in working to ensure that older workers obtain equal justice under the law have met a solid wall of disinterest. This, despite the fact that age discrimination in the workplace denies millions of older Americans the right to work and dooms them to poverty or near poverty in their old age.

The AARP calls itself the leading advocate for Americans aged 50 and older. But the AARP also sells the most popular “Medigap” plans in the United States, AARP Medicare Supplement Health Insurance Plans, as well as a huge array of travel services, high tech products and … you name it.

 The AARP’s for-profit enterprise, AARP Services, Inc., is  essentially marketing access generated by its non-profit entity, the AARP Foundation, to 37 million of America’s oldest consumers.

Is it really too much to ask the AARP to use some of its riches to do more than just take surveys  – to act to insure that older workers are treated equally under the law, and not subjected to bogus restructurings and downsizings, chronic unemployment and poverty in old age?  Fifty years of inequality is enough.