Senate bill aims to restore rights to older workers

Older workers in New York and around the country will regain important workplace protections if a bill introduced by two Republicans and two Democrats is signed into law. The U.S. Supreme Court set the legal bar in workplace discrimination cases higher for older workers in 2009, but passage of the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act would restore the pre-2009 standards. The bipartisan bill also addresses the type of evidence that may be submitted by older workers who file discrimination claims.

Employees who file workplace discrimination claims based on race, sex, national origin or religion must be able to show that these factors were considered by their employers before some sort of adverse action was taken against them. The number of workplace age discrimination claims soared in the wake of the 2009 financial crisis as millions of Americans were laid off, but the Supreme Court stemmed this flow in 2009 by making it more difficult for older workers to pursue civil remedies.

The ruling requires older workers who file age discrimination claims to establish that their employers took disciplinary action against them purely or primarily because of their age. Workers’ rights activists see this as an unfair burden. A 2013 study conducted by the AARP suggests that two out of three older workers in the United States have experienced some sort of age-related discrimination.

Attorneys with experience in this area may urge employers to settle workplace discrimination claims quickly and quietly. Civil trials are public affairs, and corporate reputations that took years to build may not be able to withstand allegations of harassment and unfair treatment. Losing in court could also leave employers vulnerable to a flood of similar lawsuits filed by other workers who have been treated poorly or discriminated against.

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