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Older Georgians favor bill to fight age discrimination in workplace

5/30/2014, 6:04 a.m.
Older Georgians strongly support bipartisan legislation to fight age discrimination in the workplace, a new AARP survey unveiled May 29 ...
Support for the “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act” spans ideologies.

Older Georgians strongly support bipartisan legislation to fight age discrimination in the workplace, a new AARP survey unveiled May 29 shows.

Eighty-four percent of registered voters 50 and older polled in April “strongly” favor passage of the bipartisan federal “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act,” or POWADA.

The survey also found that more than one in three Georgians reported that they or someone they know has experienced age discrimination.

Greg Tanner, AARP Georgia’s state director, said the survey confirms what Georgia residents already know: “Huge majorities demand fairness for older workers.”

Tanner said support for the law bridges all political ideologies with 80 percent of moderates, liberals and conservatives endorsing it.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), is designed to overturn a divided U.S. Supreme Court decision, 5-4 in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, that made it much more difficult for older workers to prove claims of illegal bias based on age.

The nonprofit AARP, which is nonpartisan, is urging Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia to co-sponsor the bill, which would help ensure that employees have a more level playing field when fighting age discrimination in court.

The Gross decision substantially heightened the standard that older workers must meet in order to prove that his or her employer violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA. The decision means many older workers will never see their day in court, and it is now being applied by some courts to restrict the rights of employees in other types of employment discrimination cases, too, AARP says.

Last summer, the Supreme Court extended the decision to cases when an employer retaliates against the employee for challenging discrimination.

For decades, if an older worker showed that age was one motivating factor in an adverse employment decision, even if other motives also played a role, the employer had to prove that it would have made the same decision without considering the employee’s age.

Since the Gross decision, employees instead must prove that the employer would not have taken the adverse action “but for” their age – in other words, that age played the determining role – a significantly higher standard of proof.

The AARP survey, conducted by telephone April 8-14, found 93 percent of Georgians think older Americans should be protected from age discrimination just like they are from sex or race discrimination. In addition, 88 percent of those surveyed agreed that “Congress needs to do more to ensure people over 50 continue to have an equal opportunity to work for as long as they want or need to, regardless of their age.”

The age discrimination bill is gaining traction at a difficult time for older workers, whose average length of unemployment between jobs is nearly a year.

Of those polled in Georgia, 82 percent said they believe “age would be an obstacle to finding work.”

To view the Georgia survey, visit http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2014/Protecting-Older-Workers-Against-Discrimination-Act-A-Survey-of-Georgia-Voters-Age-50-Plus-AARP-res-econ.pdf.

For more information, visit AARP.org.