Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Nancy Mace (R-SC) announced the introduction of the bipartisan Protecting Older Americans Act. The legislation would invalidate forced arbitration clauses that prevent age discrimination victims from seeking justice and public accountability.
Forced arbitration, or pre-dispute arbitration, occurs when a company requires an employee to submit any potential dispute to binding arbitration as a condition of employment. As a result, employees waive their right to sue in court, enabling a culture of secrecy that shields bad actors.
The lawmakers announced the bill at a press conference, where they were joined by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson and AARP SVP for Government Affairs Bill Sweeney. The legislation builds off the lawmakers’ successful effort last Congress to invalidate forced arbitration agreements in cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Passage of the bill changed 60 million employment contracts overnight.
“Three out of four older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job, but too often cannot pursue justice because of forced arbitration, a secretive and unfair process that strips hard-working Americans of their constitutional right to a jury trial,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The bipartisan Protecting Older Americans Act would ban forced arbitration in cases of age discrimination, enabling victims the chance to file their cases in court if they so choose, and giving them a voice in the process. Employers should no longer be able to use forced arbitration to hide illegal conduct. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan bill with my colleagues and I am optimistic we can pass this critical reform this Congress.”
“While I support arbitration as a means for resolving disputes, the idea of people signing away their legal rights in employment contracts, and other situations where there is an imbalance of power, is unacceptable. Age discrimination is real, and I believe people should have access to court rooms in such situations,” said Senator Graham.
“The Protecting Older Americans Act builds on our work last Congress and voids pre-dispute arbitration clauses for disputes involving age discrimination. According to a survey by AARP, 78 percent of older workers have either seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. And more than 10,000 U.S. workers file age discrimination claims with the EEOC every year. These older Americans should not be forced to litigate their claims in arbitration forums that are stacked in favor of their employers,” said Senator Durbin. “I am hopeful that this Congress can come together to pass the Protecting Older Americans Act. No American, especially an elderly victim of discrimination, should ever be denied their day in court.”
“Justice, fairness, and accountability should extend to every individual, regardless of their age,” said Representative Mace. “The Protecting Older Americans Act is a crucial step towards ensuring older Americans are not denied their right to seek justice and hold perpetrators of age discrimination accountable. Invalidating forced arbitration clauses is essential in allowing victims to have their day in court and fostering transparency in addressing age-related injustices. We must stand together to protect the rights and dignity of our older citizens.”
“Older workers who face age discrimination should have the option of having their case heard in court with the legal protections provided under the law,” said AARP Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Bill Sweeney. “Mandatory and binding arbitration clauses in contracts force employees to give up those rights, adjudicate disputes outside the courts, with fewer protections, and in forums often determined by the employer. AARP is pleased to endorse the Protecting Older Americans Act of 2023, which prohibits forced arbitration for age discrimination claims in the workplace.
“Forced arbitration allows corporations to get away with illegal discriminatory behavior like firing employees based on their age,” said Linda Lipsen, American Association for Justice CEO. “As advocates for those employees facing age discrimination, we are proud to support this bill that would let the worker decide how to seek justice, instead of having that choice decided for them by corporation.”
“Ending the use of forced arbitration in cases of age discrimination will create safer work environments and protect millions of people,” said Gretchen Carlson, Co-Founder of Lift Our Voices. “The Protecting Older Americans Act builds off of the two laws we championed last year and is the next step for Lift Our Voices in its mission to create safer workplaces for all.”
“No one should ever be forced from a job because their employer thinks they have aged out,” said Julie Roginsky, Co-Founder of Lift Our Voices. “This bill ensures that older workers are free from the secret chamber of forced arbitration that exists to cover up behavior that harms older survivors.”
The vast majority of older workers have reported witnessing age discrimination. According to a 2020 AARP survey, about 78% of older workers have either seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace – the highest level since AARP began tracking this statistic in 2003.
The share of workers subject to forced arbitration has more than doubled since the early 2000s, with more than half of nonunion, private-sector employees in America – about 60 million people – subject to forced arbitration today. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this number is projected to increase to over 80 million in 2024.
Along with Senators Gillibrand, Graham and Durbin, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Menendez (D-NJ) and Padilla (D-CA).
The legislation is endorsed by AARP, Lift Our Voices, American Association for Justice, National Employment Law Project, Lifespan of Greater Rochester, Hamilton-Madison House, VNS Health, Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging – Hunter College, Encore Community Services, and Association on Aging in New York.