U.S. Sleeps While U.K. Tackles Age Discrim.

While the U.S. ignores the problem, the United Kingdom Monday announced a “world-leading new approach” to tackle age discrimination in employment there.

UK Employment Minister Esther McVey said the program will battle long-term unemployment among over-50 job seekers by providing them with training in resume and interview skills, the internet and social media. In addition, she said experts would provide older workers with “career reviews” to identify skills from previous jobs and  training needs.

The program will initially hire seven “older worker champions” across the UK who will focus on “going out to smaller and medium-sized businesses to ensure they recognise the benefits of hiring older workers” by challenging outdated stereotypes about older workers.

Long-term unemployment  in the UK fell by 16 percent overall in the past year – but joblessness among workers over the age of 50 fell by only 3.5 percent.   Almost  half (47 percent) of all unemployed people between 50 and 64 in the UK have been out of work for a year or more – this compares with 33 percent for those aged 18 to 24.

“The plight of unemployed older workers has gone under the radar for too long. There’s something fundamentally wrong with so many skilled and experienced people finding themselves locked out of the workplace simply because of their age,” McVey told BBC Radio 5 live.

In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I show that older workers in the United States  face blatant and unaddressed age discrimination in hiring but no one seems to care. The problem is hidden here behind terms like “long term unemployment” and “early writing.”

I show that the U.S. government has not only failed to address the problem but actually made it incrementally worse in 2010 when President Barack Obama signed an executive order permitting federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire “recent graduates.” Meanwhile,  the U.S. Congress has failed for five years to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which would make it slightly easier for plaintiffs to win age discrimination lawsuits.

Epidemic age discrimination in the United States has devastating consequences for older workers, who are forced to spend down their savings until they age into a  financially insecure retirement where they suffer a 25 percent cut in Social Security benefits for the rest of their lives.

There are many facets to the problem of age discrimination in employment in the United States, not the least of which is that the problem seems to be invisible to federal policy makers.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was weak and riddled with loopholes to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Older workers today are literally second-class citizens under U.S. law, with far less protection than individuals who are discriminated against on the basis of race, sex and religion.

And no American group has emerged to effectively advocate for older workers.

The White House is planning a conference on aging in 2015. In recent months, I have made repeated efforts to contact the executive director of the conference, Nora Super, to urge her to address the problem of age discrimination in employment. I even sent her a copy of my book.  I’ve received absolutely no response.

Double Standard for Older Workers

It is much more difficult for older workers to prevail in federal discrimination lawsuits than for victims of race, sex, national origin, color and religion.

But why?

As Shakespeare said: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA),  29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., makes it  “unlawful for an employer . . . to discharge any individual . . . because of such individual’s age. Id. at § 623(a).”  The ADEA covers employees who are age 40 and older.

To prevail on an ADEA claim, however, the U.S. Supreme Court says a plaintiff must establish that “that age was the ‘but-for’ cause of the employer’s adverse action.” Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., 129 S.Ct. 2343, 2351 (2009).

In other words, the ADEA plaintiff must show that but for age discrimination, the employer would not have made the adverse job decision (i.e. demotion or dismissal)..

This is a far higher standard than required in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which covers discrimination on the basis of sex, national origin, color and religion.

In Title VII lawsuits, it is sufficient for the plaintiff to show that discrimination was a “motivating factor” in the adverse job action. The Title VII plaintiff is not required to show that age was the determining factor.

Once the Title VII plaintiff shows that the employer’s motivation included unlawful discrimination, the burden of persuasion shifts to the employer to prove that it would have taken the same employment action for a legitimate reason in the absence of discrimination.

The burden does not ever shift from the plaintiff to the employer in an ADEA case.

There has been discussion – but no action – in the U.S. Congress to adopt new legislation to establish the same causation theory for the ADEA that exists with respect to Title VII but so far nothing has happened except that older workers continue to lose lawsuits where they have shown they were victims of gross age discrimination.

By holding ADEA plaintiffs to a much higher standard than other discrimination victims, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court seem to be saying that  age discrimination is somehow less harmful than other types of discrimination. But where is the evidence for that?

Age discrimination is possibly more insidious today than it has been at any other time in history.  When older workers lose their job today, they may never find another job, let alone another job that is comparable to the one they lost. Many hurtle toward their retirement years unprepared, without sufficient funds or even health insurance.

According to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trust, more than 42 percent of unemployed workers older than 55 had been out of work for at least a year in the fourth quarter of 2011 — the highest percentage of any age category. Only 21 percent of people under 25 are long-term unemployed. That number rises to 29 percent for ages 25-34; 36 percent for ages 35-44; and 39 percent for ages 45-54.

It’s no picnic for many older workers who remain employed either. They may be “stuck” in bad jobs. Employers know that older workers will find it difficult – if not impossible – to prevail in age discrimination lawsuits. And they know that older workers can’t afford to quit and face the risk of chronic unemployment.   This situation does not provide any incentive for employers to treat older workers with respect and dignity.

Not surprisingly, the number of age discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has more than doubled in the past decade, to a total of 23,465 in 2011.

The real tragedy in all of this is the sense that many older workers —  who have spent a lifetime paying taxes and being good citizens — are denied equal protection by the very democratic institutions that are charged with  insuring equal protection for all.

New Record for Discrimination Claims

Employment discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reached an all-time high in 2011.

A total of 99,947 charges of employment discrimination were filed with the EEOC in Fiscal 2011, compared to  99,922 in Fiscal 2010. This sets a new record for discrimination claims.

Once again, charges alleging retaliation under all the statutes the EEOC enforces were the most numerous at 37,334 charges received, or 37.4 percent of all charges, followed by charges of race discrimination ( 35,395) and sex discrimination (28,534).

Other allegations include:

  • Disability discrimination–25,742
  • Age discrimination—23,465
  • National Origin  discrimination – 11,833
  • Religious discrimination – 4,151
  • Color discrimination – 2,832
  • Equal Pay Act – 919
  • Genetic Discrimination Act – 245

The EEOC filed 300 lawsuits in 2011, which resulted in $91 million of relief.  Twenty-three of the lawsuits involved systemic allegations involving large numbers of people.

Through its combined litigation, enforcement, mediation programs, the EEOC obtained  $455.6 million in relief for private sector, state, and local employees and applicants,  an increase of more than $51 million from the 2010 fiscal year and a new record for the agency.

Of possible interest to workplace anti-bully advocates, the EEOC’s enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) produced the highest increase in monetary relief among all of the statutes the EEOC enforces: the administrative relief obtained for disability discrimination charges increased by almost 35.9 percent to $103.4 million.  Back impairments were the most frequently cited impairment under the ADA, followed by other orthopedic impairments, depression, anxiety disorder and diabetes. Many of these ADA claims could be stress related – targets of workplace bullying suffer high levels of stress that are blamed for short-and long-term physical impairment.

The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The fiscal year 2011 enforcement and litigation statistics, which include trend data, are available on the EEOC’s website at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm