Op-Ed | We must protect our older citizens from age discrimination

Group of senior friends smiling on camera after yoga lesson at city park
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When you’ve spent the majority of your adult life working, you learn a thing or two about how to do it well. Experience in the workplace should be an asset to employers, not a reason to discriminate against employees.

I recently heard from an older worker who worked hard for 24 years at his company, and eventually managed a multimillion-dollar portfolio. However, despite excellent performance reviews and better sales compared to his younger counterparts, he was unexpectedly let go five years before he would have been entitled to significant retirement benefits. The timing of his dismissal certainly raises questions.

Yet due to a forced arbitration clause he doesn’t even remember signing, he was unable to obtain justice. Unfortunately, this is all too common.

More than 100 million people in the United States are between the ages of 40 and 64, and about 74 percent of them are working. But according to AARP, more than 3 out of 4 of those older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job. And all too often, these workers can’t pursue justice because of a forced arbitration clause they signed when they were hired.

Forced arbitration is a secretive and unfair process that strips hard-working Americans of their constitutional right to a jury trial. It traps those who experience workplace discrimination in a system that advantages their employer — preventing them from seeking information that could help to prove their case. What’s more, workers are left in the hands of an arbitrator outside of the justice system who is often selected by their employer and is not always a trained lawyer. It’s no surprise then that employees are often less likely to win in arbitration than they are in court.

In a time when the population of older Americans is growing and more are postponing retirement, it’s important that Congress act to make sure that those who face age discrimination can have their day in court.

Building on my successful effort to ban forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment and assault, I introduced the bipartisan Protecting Older Americans Act, which would do the same in cases of age discrimination. It would allow those who have experienced age discrimination the option to file their case in court if they so choose, even if they previously signed a forced arbitration clause. It gives them a voice in the process and the ability to seek justice. It stops the subversion of laws that protect older Americans.

Aging is a natural part of life. Those who are older now have spent a lifetime building their careers and contributing to our economy and workforce. And they shouldn’t suffer age discrimination in return. By passing the Protecting Older Americans Act, we can ensure that those who experience age discrimination get the justice they deserve, and together we can build a better economy for ourselves and future generations.