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Survey finds widespread work discrimination for older Utahns

Published April 3, 2014 2:17 pm

Discrimination • Older Americans lost some protection in 2009 Supreme Court decision.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Nearly a third of Utah residents aged 50 and older say they or someone they know has experienced workplace age discrimination in the past four years, according to a new survey.

The AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, asked 500 Utah residents about age discrimination and their experiences as part of a national effort to urge passage of the bipartisan Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act.

That federal legislation attempts to reverse a 2009 Supreme Court decision, Gross vs. FBL Financial Services, which made it harder to prove age discrimination. Instead of having to prove that age was just one factor in a termination, for instance, a fired worker now must prove age was the determining factor.

Alan Ormsby, Utah state director for AARP, was in Washington this week, urging Utah's delegation to support the law.

"This AARP survey confirms what Utah residents know: huge majorities demand fairness for older workers," Ormsby said in a news release. He noted that support among older Utahns cuts across political lines.

After listening to a brief description of the law, some 86 percent of those surveyed said they support it. The poll, conducted March 4-7 by phone, has a 4.4 percent margin of error.

Older workers also overwhelmingly said that Americans are working longer due to high costs of gasoline, health care, food and housing, and that they are concerned their age an obstacle to finding a new job. Fifty-five percent said they were "very concerned" about that.

Lauren Scholnick, an employment law attorney in Salt Lake City, said that fear may be justified.

"Anecdotally, what we see is the most widespread problem is older workers have a hard time, once fired, becoming re-employed," she said.

Discrimination in such cases is hard to prove, she said, and the new law wouldn't address that problem.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton