Madonna and Age Discrimination

Very few female celebrities have publicly raised the issue of age discrimination.  Most hide from it as long as possible because they know it may be the death knell of their career. But Madonna has never been like other celebrities.

In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Madonna, 56, observes that no one would “dare say a degrading remark about being black or dare say a degrading remark on Instagram about someone being gay, but my age – anybody and everybody would say something degrading to me. And I always think to myself, why is that accepted? What’s the difference between that and racism, or any discrimination?”

The difference, Madonna, is that age discrimination has essentially been legalized in the United States.  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was weak to begin with and has been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. And Congress is completely apathetic about the issue.

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I discuss the growing legal chasm between age discrimination and race or sex discrimination.

It’s hard to imagine that President Barack Obama, our first African-American president, would approve an executive order allowing federal agencies to  bypass black and Hispanic applicants, in favor of white applicants.

Yet, President Obama in 2010 signed an executive order establishing the Pathways Recent Graduates Program, allowing federal agencies to discriminate against older workers in favor of  hiring “recent graduates.”  This is completely contrary to the letter and spirit of the ADEA and sends a clear signal to the private sector that age discrimination is not like other kinds of discrimination.  (It is, by the way.)

In addition, the U.S.  Supreme Court for decades has accorded age discrimination  its very lowest standard of review, far lower than race or sex discrimination.  It’s almost impossible to overturn a law that discriminates on the basis of age.

Federal judges almost always dismiss age discrimination cases before they ever reach a jury.

Madonna has lived a  charmed life  because she is essentially an entrepreneur and has managed through sheer force of will to avoid age discrimination until now. She’s gorgeous and incredibly talented.  But many women in the workplace begin to experience age discrimination and bullying in their 40s.

Madonna also notes in the Rolling Stone article that age “is the one area where you can totally discriminate against somebody and talk shit. Because of their age. Only females, though. Not males. So in that respect we still live in a very sexist society.”

She contends that “women, generally, when they reach a certain age, have accepted that they’re not allowed to behave a certain way. But I don’t follow the rules. I never did, and I’m not going to start.”

I’m thrilled that Madonna is not planning to follow the “rules” and blithely accept second-class treatment because of her age. We need to change the rules for all  older workers.

 

“Bullying” and Assertive Women

The New York Times paints a daunting picture of “volatile”  New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who is running for mayor.

 The Times describes an incident in which Ms. Quinn expressed her dismay to the city’s former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum for what she deemed to be Gotbaum’s failure of leadership at a chaotic council meeting. The Times said Quinn slammed her hand on the table and said, “You were like Bambi in there!” (Ms. Quinn says she told the Public Advocate that she had an expression of “Bambi-like eyes.”) Gotbaum called it “unprofessional behavior.”

 Before bestowing the mantle of  Workplace Bully on Ms. Quinn, I think it is appropriate to  consider how much of Ms. Quinn’s notoriety is due to the fact that she is a woman running for mayor of New York City.

There is a serious dearth of women in leadership roles in our society. As noted in Forbes Magazine , men run roughly 97% of the nation’s  largest public companies, hold 84% of major corporate board positions and control 83% of Congress.  Sex discrimination is alive and well.

And the media have a long history of savaging assertive women. Think Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton in the ‘90s, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, singer Madonna, Martha Stewart, … even one-time Tea Party diva Sarah Palin.   Woman who seek power often  are magnets for  barbs like the ones the Times story throws at Quinn – brash, angry,  controlling, temperamental, surprisingly volatile, retaliated, screaming, “hair trigger eruptions of unchecked, face-to-face wrath,” etc.?

Plus it is hard imagine any candidate  making gains  in the rough and tumble  of the New York City mayoral race without sharp elbows.

 “I don’t think being pushy or bitchy or tough, or however you want to characterize it, is a bad thing,” Quinn is quoted as stating. “New Yorkers want somebody who is going to get things done.”

There also is an interesting paradox in the Times article.   Workplace bullies often reveal themselves first to their staff and subordinates. The Times writes that members of Quinn’s staff are “strikingly loyal, with close advisers staying by her side for years.”   That says something about Ms. Quinn.

Quinn may be the bully who is portrayed in the Times article but for now  I’m reserving judgment.