2007-10-26 / Columnists

Chatting with Chapey

Is Discrimination Alive And Well?
Commentary by Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey, Democratic District Leader

Dr. Geraldine Chapey Dr. Geraldine Chapey The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) basically requires that individuals who are 40 years of age and older be free of employment discrimination based on age. The Act states that "it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition or privilege of employment - including, but not limited to hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments and training." It applies to both employees and job applicants.

Your employer is prohibited from hiring or firing you, based on your age. According to an age discrimination paper issued by the AARP, "The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is your first defense against age discrimination. There has to be a lawful reason - not connected to age - for almost all employment decisions." If you find that you are being discriminated against, the first step is to speak to your employer and to try to resolve the matter. If that doesn't work, you can file a charge against your employer at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC). This is the federal agency which is required to enforce the mandates of the ADEA.

As one of the four citywide officers of the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing the faculty and staff of the City University of New York, I worked with faculty members to file charges at the EEOC in cases regarding non-reappointment and promotion. The EEOC process was user friendly. If the EEOC rules that your case has merit, they investigate the case thoroughly by collecting data and holding hearings.

In 2005, the EEOC proposed a rule to deny health benefits to employees or retirees who are eligible for Medicare or a state health plan. Based on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the AARP filed a suit to overturn this ruling. At the same time, it filed an injunction requesting that the Supreme Court bar the EEOC from finalizing the proposed rule until the Supreme Court ruled on it. Unfortunately the third Circuit Court denied the request on September 13, 2007 and it sent the proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget.

Why should the public be concerned? As the United Press International (UPI) clearly states: "employers are now allowed to change the health benefits they offer retirees when they become eligible for Medicare. This ruling effectively negates the coverage of senior citizens from their protection under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act with regard to age- based reductions or termination of their health insurance. These individuals are at significant risk of being saddled with an enormous financial burden that the employer-provided health insurance often deflected. This will happen at a point in their lives when they are not in a position to commence saving strategies to help meet these costs or seek employment to secure alternative coverage" according to a senior attorney for the AARP.

According to Robin Conrad, the Executive Director of the legal arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "Businesses will not be subject to age discrimination cases if they reduce benefits in keeping with Medicare benefits."

This ruling will have an impact on all retirees or employees who are eligible for Medicare. The AARP is now considering its options and will hopefully decide to appeal this serious decision on reducing health care benefits for Medicare-eligible employees and retirees.

Write, call and e-mail the AARP, demanding that they appeal this ruling. Also, call your elected officials and let them know how concerned you are about this health care reduction. Information for this article was obtained from the ADEA, AARPreleases, and the United Press International.

Another issue which deserves your attention is the U.S. Senate's plan to increase funding for Older American Act (OAA) programs. Republican Senator Gordon Smith and Democrat Blanche Lincoln are leading the move to increase the funding to support senior services, senior centers, home-delivered nutrition programs and the National Family Caregiver program. Call our Senators - Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton - and ask them to support these increases.

On Wednesday, October 17, the Regular Democratic Club of the Rockaways attracted a standing-room-only crowd to hear Councilwoman Melinda Katz. Katz has served as an assemblywoman and is now serving in the City Council, where she chairs the Land Use Committee. She holds a law degree from St. John's University. Katz shared current information on land use with the audience, and Katz announced that she is running for the NYC Comptroller's position when her term is up. Joining us at the meeting were two of the Democratic candidates for Judge - Dennis Butler and Ken Holder. The other candidate is Steve Painter. Please vote for Dennis Butler, Ken Holder and Steve Painter on Election Day for the position of Supreme Court Judge.

The Rockaway Catholic-Jewish Council has monthly meetings in our office. Renee Freeman and I are the cochairs. We are going to attend a meeting at the Museum of the City of New York on the topic of "Ethnic Power in New and Old New York: the Irish, the Jews and the Italians." According to the Museum announcement, the program will look at "successive groups of immigrants and their descendants who exercised power in 20th Century New York - in politics, finance, unions and social movements." Pete Hamill, former Mayor Ed Koch and Frank Macchiarola will discuss how various ethnic groups obtained, held and divided power and how the shifting dynamics of law, religion and ethnicity influenced city politics. It will be moderated by Joshua M. Zeitz and is presented in conjunction with the Jewish Daily Forward: Embracing an Immigrant Community.

It was with deep sadness that I learned of the passing of Barbara Eisenstadt. Barbara held the Rockaway Music and Arts Council meetings in our office each month. She was a superb leader. She had a deep inner strength. She was talented and very creative. Beverly Baxter wrote a beautiful article about Barbara last week. Her funeral at the West End Temple was very crowded with people from the Tri-State area whose lives had been touched and changed by Barbara.

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