Why Age Discrimination Claims are on the Rise

As if the tough economy didn’t present enough challenges for workers, the number of age discrimination cases is increasingly on the rise. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the number of charges filed by workers claiming age discrimination has risen from 16,548 in 2006, to 22,778 filed; in 2009.  That’s an increase from 21.8 percent of all claims to 24.4 percent.

However, some say the figures are higher. Cathy Ventrell-Monsees, president of the nonprofit group Workplace Fairness, testified at a public hearing at EEOC headquarters in Washington in 2009, that American workers filed nearly 30 percent more age discrimination charges in 2008 than in 2007. 

Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles district office, says that using demeaning terms and stereotypes to describe older workers remains “socially acceptable.”  She adds, “People who would not dream of making sexually provocative statements or using a racial epithet will think nothing of calling someone ‘grandpa’ or an ‘old mutt’ or ‘old bag,’ “

EEOC Commissioner Constance S. Barker referred to employers frequently saying they want fresh blood. “What are they talking about?” she asked. “They want younger and cuter.”

However, there are many workers who have been victims of age discrimination who don’t file charges. According to Laurie McCann, senior attorney for the American Association of Retired Persons(AARP), the actual cases filed are only “the tip of the iceberg.” 

McCann and others point to the 2009 Supreme Court decision, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., as the reason a relatively small number of those who are victims of age bias actually fight back. While age discrimination even under the federal Age Discrimination Employment Act, known as ADEA, places a huge burden on victims of age discrimination, the new Supreme Court ruling places an almost-impossible burden of proof on anyone attempting to win an age discrimination suit.

Before the new ruling from the high court, plaintiffs were required only to show that their age was a decisive factor in losing their jobs or being refused a job. Since the 2009 decision, however, those hoping to win judgement must prove that their age was the decisive factor in their job loss.

Currently, in an effort to address the issue of age discrimination, Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Republican Senator Charles Grassley, both of Iowa, and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, are sponsoring legislation that would reverse the higher standards of proof imposed by the 2009 Supreme Court decision and required for plaintiffs in an age discrimination suit. The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act would require age discrimination to be treated as discrimination based on sex, race, national origin or religion.