Senate Bill Seeks To Extend ADEA Protection to State Workers

September 17, 2001 ( - The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has passed a bill that would require states to abide by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in order to receive federal funds.

The bill would require states to waive their sovereign immunity from the ADEA and was developed in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision in Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents. That case held that the 11th Amendment shields states from state workers’ lawsuits under the ADEA.

Party “Line”

The committee approved the Older Workers Rights Restoration Act of 2001 (S. 928) by a 12-9 vote along party lines, with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) the only Republican supporting the measure, according to the Bureau of National Affairs.

Senators Jim Jeffords (I-Vermont), Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin), and Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) introduced the measure in May.

Both Sides Now

Supporters of the bill argue that it restores the clear intention of the ADEA to bar age discrimination by all employers. However, opponents expressed concern that the measure interferes with state authority and may prove to be unconstitutional by using the leverage of federal funds to coerce states into surrendering their sovereign authority.

However, Senator Kennedy responded that even the most conservative constitutional experts agree that Congress can ask states to waive their sovereign immunity as a condition of receiving federal funds.

Ranking Member Senator Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire) says he will offer an amendment on the Senate floor. That amendment reportedly would exempt all states that have their own laws banning age discrimination if the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) certified that those laws provided appropriate protections for state workers. At present, only Alabama and South Dakota do not have such laws.

– Nevin Adams                   

See Also Supreme Court Finds States Immune to ADA Suits