Elderly Civil Rights
In the video above, Elder Affairs Committee Chair Nina Kohn answers the questions "Are there special civil rights that specifically protect the elderly?" and "Where do the elderly complain if they are being discriminated against because of their age?", both asked by a high school student from California.
Q: Are there any special civil rights that specifically protect the elderly? Where do the elderly complain if they are being discriminated against because of their age? Jacqueline from California
A: The Supreme Court of the United States has found that the U.S. Constitution does not provide special protection against age discrimination. As established in 1976 a landmark Supreme Court case called Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, state and private actors in the U.S. are largely free to use chronological age as a basis for establishing benefits or rights. Such criteria are legally permissible so long as they are rationally related to a legitimate government purpose—and this is a pretty low bar. The result is that, to the extent that adults are protected from age-based discrimination, that protection is almost exclusively based on statutes passed by Congress or state-level legislative bodies.
At the federal level, the most significant anti-age discrimination statute is the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 – known as the ADEA. This Act protects people age 40 and over from a wide range of employment-related discrimination, including discrimination in hiring and discriminatory treatment when at work. A person who believes that they have been discriminated against in violation of the ADEA can file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
However, the ADEA has pretty significant exceptions. For example, it only protects older adults who work for employers who have at least 20 employees. And it permits mandatory retirement ages for certain types of employees, such as high level executives, fire fighters, and police officers.
Another important federal anti-age discrimination statute is the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, which prohibits age-based discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal funding. A person who believes they have been discriminated against in violation of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 can file a complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights.
In addition to these federal statutory protections, many states also have adopted legislation that bars certain forms of age-based discrimination.