WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, joined Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Congressman George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, in introducing legislation to restore vital civil rights protections for older workers in the face of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gross v. FBL Financial.
“The downturn in our economy has forced millions of older Americans to consider all their options, to include working longer,” said Chairman Kohl. “We need to be making it easier for them to keep working past retirement age, not harder, as the Supreme Court has done with its recent ruling. This bill will ensure that age discrimination laws are enforced fairly and will allow older workers to exercise their rights.”
In Gross, the Supreme Court rewrote civil rights laws, overturning well-established precedent and making it harder for workers facing age discrimination to enforce their rights. The Court ruled that it is no longer enough for a victim of discrimination to prove that age was a motivating factor in an adverse employment decision. An employee must now prove that it was the decisive factor. The Court’s holding specifically means that victims of age discrimination face a higher burden than those alleging race, sex, national origin or religious discrimination. And, the opinion has already had reverberations in a wide range of civil rights cases beyond age discrimination. In addition to Kohl, Harkin, and Leahy, Senators Durbin (D-IL), Specter (D-PA), Schumer (D-NY), Franken (D-MN), Sanders (I-VT), Brown (D-OH), Cardin (D-MD), Merkley (D-OR), Feinstein (D-CA) and Dodd (D-CT) are original co-sponsors of the Senate bill.
Senator Kohl has introduced a range of bills to benefit older workers, including the Older Worker Opportunity Act of 2009, Health Care and Training for Older Workers Act of 2009 (S. 281), the Part-Time Reemployment of Annuitants Act of 2009 (S. 629), and a bill to allow phased retirement for federal employees under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) (S. 469). For more information on Senator Kohl’s older worker agenda, click here: http://www.aging.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=308644
The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act will restore fundamental fairness.
- The Act reverses the Gross decision and restores the law to what it was for decades before the Court rewrote the rule. The Act makes clear that when a victim shows discrimination was a “motivating factor” behind a decision, the burden is properly on the employer to show it complied with the law.
- The Act is modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis 93-5. Among other things, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 codified the “motivating factor” framework for race, sex, national origin and religion discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- The Act makes clear that this “motivating factor” framework applies to all anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws – treating all workers, and all forms of discrimination, equally.
The bill is supported by AARP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Senior Citizens Law Center and the National Women’s Law Center.
# # #