As Adea Turns 40, More Needed to Combat Age Discrimination

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This year, marks the 40th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which became law four years after Tide 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 created a powerful federal law that prohibits racism and sexism in a variety of areas including, significantly, employment and education. But by excluding ageism from Title 7, the U.S. government helped perpetuate the myth that ageism is not as serious or destructive a prejudice as others.

Although ADEA has been generally successful at overcoming many barriers for older employees-in particular, mandatory retirement-it doesn't have the muscle of Title 7 to enforce adequate compliance. For example, under Title 7, an employer faced with a claim of unlawful employment discrimination bears the burden of proving that the policy or practice was the result of a business necessity and that no other alternatives were available. Under ADEA, the burden of proof is on the employee, who must show that the policy or practice was unreasonable.

The courts have given a mixed message. The 2005 Supreme Court ruled that older employees need not prove specific intention or deliberate bias to claim discrimination in pay or benefits. But, as Laurie McCann, senior attorney for AARP Foundation Litigation notes, this decision was undercut by a subsequent ruling of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. That decision placed the burden of proof on employees to prove that their employer's intent was to discriminate on the basis of age.


This past January, the Supreme Court refused to hear arguments in a class-action suit brought on behalf of 250,000 current and former IBM workers who claimed that IBM illegally discriminated on the basis of age when it changed its traditional pension plan to a cash-balance plan that allowed younger workers to accrue benefits at a faster rate than older workers. Furthermore, in 2004, the U. …