Lawmakers' Proposal Would Counter Supremes Age Bias Decision

October 7, 2009 ( - Lawmakers are trying to counter a U.S. Supreme Court decision on proving violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

The Associated Press reports that a measure introduced Tuesday would effectively reverse a 5-4 decision from earlier this year that said workers must show age was the decisive factor in a demotion or layoff (see Supreme Court Mandates Tougher ADEA Evidence Standard ). Previously, older workers had to show that age was just one factor in the employment decision.

Critics of the ruling say it means older workers now face a higher burden of proving their claim than those alleging race, sex, national origin or religious discrimination. “This extremely high burden radically undermines older workers’ ability to hold employers accountable,” said Iowa Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, according to the AP.

Harkin introduced the bill at a news conference joined by Jack Gross, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case. The news report said Harkin added that the timing of the court’s decision in Gross v. FBL Financial is even more troubling considering unemployment figures for workers 55 and older are at an all-time high.

The lawmakers’ proposal is the second recent attempt by Congress to counter a high court decision. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — the first measure that President Barack Obama signed into law — countered a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said workers had only 180 days following the occurrence of discriminatory practices to file pay-discrimination lawsuits (see High Court Rejects Years-Old Discrimination Claims ). The new law allows workers up to six months after discovering pay practices they believe are discriminatory, rather than after the pay practices occurred, to sue their employers (see Ledbetter Pay Equity Bill Signed into Law ).

The AP reports that the age discrimination measure has the strong backing of the AARP.

Michael Eastman, executive director of labor policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the business group understands the concerns that lawmakers have raised, but has not had a chance to review the bill.