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A Message From EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows on Older Americans Month, 2021

As the nation observes Older Americans Month this May, we are reminded of the challenges older Americans have endured this past year.

During the pandemic, Americans who have worked the longest for themselves, their families, and their country have suffered a partic­ularly vicious combination of health and economic COVID-related harms. Older Americans were more likely to suffer serious symptoms if they contract COVID-19, experience its effects longer, recover more slowly, and sadly, have been less likely to survive it. Individuals 65 and over have comprised more than 80% of all COVID-19 deaths. This time last year, more older Americans were hospitalized than those in younger age groups.

Fortunately, today we are seeing fewer hospitalizations of those over age 65. Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 83% of people ages 65 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 70% are fully vaccinated.

It has been heartening to see older Americans feeling comfortable leaving their homes to see friends and family, shop for groceries, exercise, dine out, and start to resume fuller lives. These positive developments are a testament to our country’s resolve and resilience and give me hope.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or the Commission) is committed to helping protect the employment opportunities of older Americans as workplaces reopen.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has exacerbated the already serious problem of workplace age dis­crimination in this country – “like throwing jet fuel on a fire,” as Laurie McCann of the AARP stated at the Commission’s April 2021 hearing on the civil implications of the pandemic.

An AARP survey completed in December found that 78% of workers aged 40 to 65 reported having witnessed or experienced age discrim­ination on the job.

Studies have found that older workers benefit the workplace in numerous ways. They are more likely to be satisfied about their job and motivated by passion for the work. On average, older workers also stay longer with their employers. They also generally have strong work ethics and better professional networks.

But many of the stubborn negative stereotypes about older workers persist, and the pandemic has created new potential avenues for age discrimination. Some employers may view older individuals as more suscept­ible to serious illness and death and limit their work opportun­ities or attempt to reduce costs by only rehiring less experienced younger workers.

The EEOC has an important role to play in ensuring older Americans have equal opportunities to work and combats age discrimination through robust education and outreach, as well as through aggressive enforcement of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. During the last six years, the EEOC has garnered over $438 million for age discrimination victims in pre-litigation resolutions alone.

Here are just a few noteworthy recent EEOC age bias cases:

  • This March, we won $115,000 from the Michigan Depart­ment of Health and Human Services, which operates the Kalamazoo Psychi­atric Hospital, for refusing to hire a 56-year-old applicant because of her age.
  • Last December, Computer Science Corporation (CSC), a technology consulting subsidiary of Tysons, Va.-based DXC Technology Corporation, agreed to pay $700,000 for targeting employees who were 40 or older in a series of layoffs nationwide.
  • Last June, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California paid out $10 million for systemically laying off employees over 40 and passing over older laid-off workers for rehire.
  • In April 2020, Baltimore County, Md., agreed to pay $5.4 million to over 2,000 county employees to resolve the EEOC’s lawsuit challenging the county’s ageist pension plan.

The agency also reached significant settlements for age discrimination claims against Texas Roadhouse ($12 million, 2017) and Seasons 52 ($2.85 million, 2018).

This year’s theme for Older Americans Month is “Communities of Strength.” Just as older Americans build strong communities, the EEOC, together with other federal, state, local and tribal agencies, as well as other civil rights and labor organizations, has built a strong community committed to preventing and remedying age discrimination. We will continue our efforts to combat age discrimination in employment to improve the quality of life for older Americans and ensure that the nation’s economy has the full benefit of their talent and experience.