Jack Gross Takes His Age Discrimination Fight to Washington

Still seeking justice after last year’s Supreme Court ruling that limited the right to challenge age discrimination in the workplace, Jack Gross last week testified before members of Congress about the need to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act.

In hearings before both the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Gross told elected officials that “[s]ince the Supreme Court’s decision in my case, I have been particularly distressed over the collateral damage that is being inflicted on others because of the Court’s ruling. I hate having my name associated with the pain and injustice now being inflicted on older workers, because it is nearly impossible to provide the level of proof now required by the Court.”

The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act would restore the rights of older workers facing age discrimination and would ensure a consistent standard for all employees facing employment discrimination or retaliation.

“Congress has a long history of working together, on a bipartisan basis, to create and maintain a level playing field in the workplace,” said Gross.  “I urge you, on behalf of myself and the millions of baby boomers behind me who have been paying the bills for a generation and want to continue working, to pass [The Act] in the same bipartisan spirit you’ve shown in the past.”

Jack Gross’ story is an extraordinary one.

Gross started working with FBL Financial Services, Inc., in 1971, and by 2001, he had risen to a management position.  For 13 consecutive years, Gross had placed in the top 3 to 5 percent of company performance reviews.  In 2001, FBL underwent a restructuring, and every employee over the age of 50, including Gross, was demoted.  Only one employee under the age of 50 was demoted, and that employee was 48 years old. 

Gross filed suit in federal district court under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and won his case.  However the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the decision, and Gross took his case to the Supreme Court. 

In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Gross in a decision that went beyond the question presented in the case.  The decision reversed the decades-old application of age discrimination law, creating legal hurdles that make it nearly impossible to prove age discrimination.  With this ruling, the Supreme Court has put age on a lower tier than other protected classes – including race, sex and religion – which has made it harder for older workers to show that they have been treated unfairly and jeopardizes the rights of plaintiffs in other civil rights litigation.