U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Neglects its History of Advocacy for Older Workers

In the past, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging has been an advocate for older workers who are faced with age discrimination in employment.

However, the committee has done nothing about age discrimination in employment in recent years, even though millions of older workers lost their jobs and savings after Wall Street collapsed and were forced into a premature and impoverished retirement.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, the chairperson of the committee, has yet to respond to a plea to address the failure of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  (EEOC) to enforce the Age Discrimination in Employment Act a (ADEA) and its inequitable treatment of older workers.

The EEOC filed two lawsuits with age discrimination claims in 2016, a year in which it received more than 20,000 complaints of age discrimination. After much criticism, the EEOC filed 12 lawsuits with age discrimination claims in Fiscal 2017 but that is still far below its historical record. The EEOC filed 87 lawsuits with age discrimination claims a decade ago, and 120 lawsuits with age discrimination claims in 1993.

The EEOC has demonstrated gross unfairness – if not actual age discrimination – against older workers in its decision-making.

In recent months, the EEOC affirmed the dismissal by its appellate unit, the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations, of  two administrative complaints where highly qualified older job applicants were passed over for far less qualified workers under the age of 40 (some were recent graduates). The EEOC ruled it does not violate the ADEA for employers to ignore objective qualifications and make hiring decisions based entirely on subjective considerations (i.e., cultural fit).  The EEOC offered no legal support for this position, which is contrary to the EEOC’s own policies and well established law.  The EEOC also ignored serious procedural irregularities by the federal hiring agencies in both cases.

The EEOC essentially takes the position that it is above reproach.

The EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations referred complaints about its discriminatory rulings to EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic, who ratified the decisions. This is akin to asking a dog  to chase its tail. But typical of a federal agency lacking in leadership and oversight.

According to a spokesperson, OFO Director Carlton M. Hadden, who wrote both of the questionable administrative rulings, “is not a judge, but an executive branch employee.  Therefore, he is not subject to the judicial code of conduct.”  Canon 3 of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges requires federal judges to “perform the duties of the office fairly, impartially and diligently.”

In the past, the Senate aging committee has been a strong advocate for victims of age discrimination in employment, recognizing its devastating impact on the health and economic well-being of older Americans. Advocacy by the committee in the 1970s led to the elimination of the ADEA’s  original age limit ( 65) and the extension of the ADEA’s coverage to more employers.

In 1973, the Senate aging committee issued a working paper and successfully fought for improvements in the ADEA.

According to its web site, the Senate aging committee is authorized to “study issues, conduct oversight of programs, and investigate reports of fraud and waste.” The Committee  “conducted oversight of the administration of major programs like Social Security and the Older Americans Act” and committee members “worked on adding more protections for seniors in the area of age discrimination.” The committee submits its finding and recommendations for legislation to the Senate.

Numerous studies show that most victims of age discrimination in hiring are older women, and that this problem contributes to the fact that women suffer significantly higher rates of poverty in old age.

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