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Congress considers bill that would help fight age discrimination

It may seem like Democrats and Republicans in Congress can't agree on anything these days. However, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the House and the Senate are championing proposed legislation that would make it easier for older workers to file employment discrimination lawsuits.

The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) would essentially reverse a decade-old Supreme Court ruling that made it more difficult for people who were demoted or laid off to file an age discrimination claim against their employers. That 5-4 high court ruling placed the burden for proving age discrimination on the plaintiff. This was a change from the previous requirement that the employer show a legitimate reason for their actions.

Although age discrimination is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which dates back over 50 years, it can be difficult to prove. Sadly, it's often based on inaccurate stereotypes of people's abilities based solely on their ages. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) noted in a report, "Despite decades of research finding that age does not predict ability or performance, employers often fall back on precisely the ageist stereotypes the ADEA was enacted to prohibit....[A]ge discrimination remains too common and too accepted."

Under POWADA, a complaining party would not have to show that the only reason they were demoted or terminated was their age. Further, courts would be able to take steps to stop an impending action that may be based on age discrimination.

In just three years, 35 percent of workers are expected to be at least 50 years old. While 65 used to be the traditional retirement age, people who've hit and surpassed that milestone are now the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace.

Unfortunately, larger numbers don't necessarily mean a greater appreciation for what people with decades of experience can bring to a job and to a company. If you believe you're the victim of age discrimination, it's worthwhile to seek legal guidance to determine what your options are.

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