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Bill Aims to Restore a 'Fair Shake' in Age Bias Cases

A bipartisan group in Congress has introduced legislation to remedy two Supreme Court decisions that have made it far more difficult for older workers to prove that they have suffered from illegal discrimination because of their age.

Related: Workplace Age Bias Hits Home for Boomers

Iowa's two senators, Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley, are the lead sponsors of the bill, named the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act; Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) is the lead sponsor of an identical bill in the House.

If the legislation becomes law, employees who allege that they have been harmed by age discrimination will have to prove only that their age was a factor in the discrimination - not the sole factor, as a divided Supreme Court ruled was necessary in 2009 in Gross v. FBL Financial Services. The legislation would apply the same standard in cases in which employers are alleged to have retaliated against workers who challenge discrimination based on race, sex or other grounds, effectively reversing another Supreme Court decision, this year's University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar.

Endorsing the legislation, AARP said that older Americans need more help combating age discrimination and fighting for their rights in the workplace.

"Until Congress passes this bill, too many older workers who have been victims of age discrimination will be denied a fair shake in our justice system," AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond said.

In the Nassar case, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued in an amicus brief that shifting the burden of proof back to employers would make it easier for workers to win cases even when their evidence was weak.

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination against workers 40 or older in all aspects of employment.

In a recent AARP survey, a third of the people interviewed reported that they had seen or been subject to age discrimination at work.

"The persistence of age discrimination in its many forms remains a significant barrier to older Americans' retirement security," LeaMond said.


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