MLK, the EEOC & Age Discrimination

MLKIt’s hard not to be cynical when the EEOC leadership trumpets its commitment to the ideals of Martin Luther King but ignores the reality of age discrimination in employment and, worse, engages in it.

EEOC Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic tweeted on MLK Day yesterday:

“Every day at the EEOC, we are reminded of Dr. King’s work, his vision, his prophecy. Our work is a deep part of his legacy. His call to service is what each member of the EEOC brings to our work every day.”

That’s a worthy sentiment but the EEOC has yet to walk the talk when it comes to age inequality.

Not only has the EEOC virtually ignored the problem for years but it sanctions age discrimination in hiring by the federal government and actually  engages in the practice itself, thereby undermining enforcement of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 in the private sector.

Dr. King understandably focused on the crisis of racial inequality in the United States but his appeal was based on the underlying concept of equal justice for all.  One can only wonder whether Dr. King, who was assassinated at age 39, would have recognized that age discrimination is a major hindrance to older minority group workers if he had lived.

In addition to the EEOC, the U.S. Congress ignores the problem of age discrimination and the U.S. Supreme Court accords age discrimination its lowest standard of review – mere rationality – a far lower standard than the Court accords to discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin or religion. A law that discriminates on the basis of age need only be rational to survive the U.S. Supreme Court’s review.

Moreover, it is supremely ironic that our nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, signed an executive order in 2010 allowing federal agencies to refuse to hire older workers. The Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program so far has cost older workers almost 100,000 jobs and counting.

Here are some quotes from Dr. King:

  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  • “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
  • “There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November.”

And here a couple of bonus quotes for the EEOC:

  • “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”
  • “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

If older workers can do the job, they have a fundamental right not to be arbitrarily fired or driven out, dispatched in thinly disguised layoffs or omitted from consideration in the hiring process.  Who would deny that older workers have a right to equal justice under the law?

And, b.t.w.,  Research shows that women are, by far, the worst victims of age discrimination in hiring.

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