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Age discrimination bill may help to restore workers' rights

Due to both legislation and various Supreme Court rulings, it is either easier or more difficult for certain groups to obtain justice for discrimination in the workplace. Those seeking restitution for age discrimination were put in a more precarious position when a 2009 United States Supreme Court ruling altered the ways in which the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act is treated in judicial proceedings.

Specifically, the Court shifted the Act's burden of proof from employers to employees. This basically means that in order to win an age discrimination claim, workers must demonstrate that their age was indeed a critical factor in whatever adverse circumstance (such as demotion, termination or unequal pay) amounted to discrimination.

This standard is a very difficult one for most workers to abide by, given that they do not often have a great deal of access or visibility to evidence which would help them prove their case. Prior to the 2009 decision, employers were tasked with proving that an adverse employment decision was made on legal and nondiscriminatory grounds.

However, hope may be on the way for employees who have been negatively affected by age discrimination. Two United States Senators have introduced a bill aimed at reversing the 2009 Supreme Court decision. If the bill passes, it would shift the burden of proof back to employers.

A similar bill was previously introduced in the Senate and did not pass. However, the co-sponsorship of this particular bill makes passage more likely.

The standard articulated in the 2009 case has resulted in the dismissal of countless age discrimination claims. It has also been applied to dismiss cases involving sex, religion, race and national origin discrimination. Passage of the newly introduced bill could potentially benefit all employees who have been discriminated against for any illegal reason.

Source: New York Times, "Combating Age Discrimination," Mar. 29, 2012

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