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A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows on Older Americans Month 2022

Each May, we observe Older Americans Month to honor older adults for their significant impact on our nation – often as loved ones, colleagues, mentors, and volunteers – and to recommit to addressing their unique needs as a vital population. This year’s theme for Older Americans Month is “Age My Way,” with an emphasis on ways to support older Americans to remain in and be involved in their residential and professional communities, especially given the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Older Americans left the workplace in disproportionate numbers during the pandemic largely due to the ongoing health crisis, heavy job losses, and overall economic downturn. By October 2021, the percentage of long-term unemployed jobseekers ages 55 and older was 41.2% (compared to 32.2% for ages 16 to 54). When attempting to reenter the workforce, many of these workers face several barriers to hiring, including employers’ reluctance to hire workers who have gaps in their resumes.

At the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), we are committed to protecting the employment opportunities of older Americans and ensuring they can fully contribute to the workplace as our country recovers from the pandemic’s impacts. Through our joint initiative with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the Hiring Initiative to Reimagine Equity, or HIRE, the EEOC is helping to expand access to good jobs for underrepresented workers, including older Americans. At our April 2022 HIRE event “Untapped Potential: Reimagining Equity for Workers with Gaps in Employment History,” experts highlighted viable skills that underrepresented workers can offer to prospective employers. For older workers, these typically include skills enhanced by years of experience, such as specialized industry knowledge, sound judgment, coaching or mentoring, and relationship-building.

The EEOC is also combatting age discrimination through robust education and outreach as well as through vigorous enforcement of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). For example, to recruit and hire quickly, some employers are using automated technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), throughout the hiring process. However, unless these technologies are used consistently with federal equal employment opportunity laws, they can perpetuate systemic inequities and discrimination in the workforce. This month, the EEOC filed suit against three integrated tutoring companies that provide English-language tutoring services to students in China because of their use of online recruitment software that automatically rejected older U.S.-based applicants on the basis of age. The agency alleged that the companies violated the ADEA by programming their tutor application software to automatically reject female applicants age 55 or older and male applicants age 60 or older – rejecting more than 200 qualified applicants because of their age. Additionally, we are engaging relevant stakeholders through our AI and Algorithmic Fairness Initiative so that employers and employees can benefit from these technologies while ensuring they do not inadvertently become a high-tech pathway to discrimination.

The EEOC has also resolved significant age discrimination claims on behalf of older workers, including:

  • In October 2021, a national temporary placement agency agreed to pay over $3.5 million to resolve allegations that it failed to recruit, assign, place, and/or hire individuals based on age (over 40);
  • In July 2020, the EEOC recovered $215,000 and significant equitable relief from a CBS broadcast affiliate in Texas. The EEOC alleged that CBS refused to hire Tammy Dombeck Campbell, an experienced traffic reporter, for a full-time traffic reporter position at the Dallas/Fort Worth station because of her age. CBS instead hired a 24-year-old former NFL cheerleader who did not meet the advertised hiring criteria; and
  • In September 2019, the EEOC won a jury verdict of $458,000 on behalf of two sales employees—Archibald Roberts and Cesar Fernandez—who were fired due to their ages on the same day by a beverage distributor because the company’s top sales manager “wanted a younger sales force.”

Recently, the Commission issued a report on workers age 40 and over in the federal workplace. It details that the federal government generally outperforms the private sector regarding diversity for employees age 40 and older. Older workers had greater representation in the federal sector (72%) than in the non-federal civilian labor force (54%), and most race and national origin groups were represented for this cohort in the federal government at rates equal or greater than the civilian labor force. These report findings serve as reminders of the essential role that older workers play in the labor force and the timeless vision of the EEOC to build inclusive workplaces so that our country and economy will continue to benefit from their experience, talent, and skill.

Nelson Mandela, social justice icon as well as South Africa’s first black president and oldest head of state when elected in his mid-seventies (1994-1999), once said, “A society that does not value its older people denies its roots and endangers its future.” As we observe Older Americans Month, the EEOC recognizes older workers for their lasting impact on our country as well as their guiding influence on each generation. We will continue to work with other federal, state, local and tribal agencies, as well as civil rights and labor organizations, to prevent and remedy age discrimination. Together, we will advance equity, justice, and opportunity for older Americans in support of these valuable contributors to our communities and workplaces.