Rep. Axne, Bipartisan House Vote to Reverse Supreme Court Age Bias Ruling Against Older Iowan

January 15, 2020
Press Release
Bill restores protections for older workers weakened by 2009 SCOTUS ruling against Iowa’s Jack Gross

Washington D.C. — Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) voted with a bipartisan House to restore protections against age discrimination by passing the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA). The standard for rulings on age bias was changed in 2009 when the Supreme Court ruled against Jack Gross, a West Des Moines insurance company supervisor who was included in a mass demotion of older supervisors at the company following a corporate merger.

Prior to Gross v FBL Financial Services Inc., plaintiffs in age discrimination cases needed to prove that age was a factor in an employer’s adverse action. The ruling raised the burden of proof, requiring age to be the decisive factor in action taken against an employee. Legislation passed by the House today would return future cases to the pre-2009 standard.

“Bias in the workplace is unacceptable, and we all know it.” said Rep. Axne. “It is unacceptable that the Supreme Court has decided to create an impossibly high bar for older Iowa workers like Jack Gross to get these protections — and I’m proud of my vote today to reverse that ruling.”

An AARP survey conducted in 2018 found that three in five workers age 45 and older had seen or experienced age discrimination. In 2017, the Equal Employer Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received almost 20,000 complaints of age discrimination — making up 22% of all discrimination charges filed with the EEOC that year.

“As we see older Iowans are working later into their life, we have to ensure they are protected in the workplace,” said Rep. Axne. “This legislation restores the protections that would have helped Jack Gross keep his position and keep age bias out of our places of business.”

In 2004, Gross was a 55-year-old insurance executive working at Farm Bureau Financial Group in West Des Moines. After a corporation merger, Gross was demoted along with all Iowa supervisors at the company over the age of 50. Gross filed a suit that was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, where a 2009 decision ruled against Gross and established the current legal standard.