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A Message from EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon on Older Americans Month May 2020

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." – Mark Twain

There are Americans all over, in all sorts of fields, who enrich us all – by not minding!  Here’s a tale of one of them:

All right, the boss said, if that old fellow passes the same physical exam as the younger people, he gets the job.  Well, he did pass it, and the boss, the director of NASA, gave him the job – payload specialist on space shuttle mission STS-95. Qualifications were no issue for John Herschel Glenn, of course – he’d been the first American to orbit the earth in 1963, and, way before that, a World War II and Korean War fighter pilot and then NASA test pilot. 

In 1998, the year of this new job, he was 77, and he insisted on being useful, not only as an astro­naut, but by subjecting himself to age-relevant experiments on the effects of space flight on older people.  He endured all this while performing the usual tasks of a space voyager – for nearly ten days.  But, of course, his very participation in the mission could be said to be one big age experiment, and it was successful – it showed the world, indisputably, that older people can do amazing things. 

Of course, being an American hero and celebrity didn’t exactly hurt his job application process.  But there are millions more older Americans who are able and willing to contribute to other endeavors in any number of ways – if they’re not stopped by age discrimination. 

That is where we at the EEOC come in.  We enforce the ADEA with enthusiasm, as we do with all other statutes.  After all, one basic principle and spirit informs all the laws we enforce.  It should be a no-brainer that no one should be denied a job -- or treated unfairly at one – because of their age.  But I’m afraid we have to keep educating and enforcing in every way we can – including litigation as a last resort.

As we all know, ADEA violations can be harder to prove than those of other statutes.  And too many people think that age bias is justifiable, even if they agree that other forms of discrimination aren’t. 

All the more reason we should apply ourselves to perfecting our skills at exposing age discrimination, which goes hand-in-space-glove with preventing it and educating the public against it as well as litigating against it. 

That’s our own experiment – keep honing our skills in making sure everyone understands that age discrimination as obviously unlawful, counterproductive, actionable, and as wrong as any other form of demographic bias.  This task will take longer than ten days – but like John Glenn, we are committed to our mission.