‘70 is the new 50’: New law adds age to discrimination protections

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg has announced her retirement, effective at the end of the current legislative term, in January 2022. So, any bills impacting discrimination against the age of a worker do not directly impact her.

Weinberg (D-Teaneck), however, has made a career out of thinking of others. That’s why the 86-year-old was the prime sponsor of a bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed Tuesday that will expand the scope of the Law Against Discrimination by providing protections against age discrimination by employers.

“As in many places around the country, New Jersey’s workforce is aging, and we need to be proactive in protecting those older workers against age discrimination,” she said. “One way to do that is to bring these outdated laws into the 21st century, in order to grant these valued employees the same protections enjoyed by younger colleagues.”

Currently, the LAD prohibits discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability and other protected characteristics, including age.

Tuesday’s bill signing amends the LAD to extend protections against age discrimination by:

  • Implementing a higher standard for a government employer in terms of setting a mandatory retirement age;
  • Eliminating the provision of the law that allows employers not to hire or promote workers over 70 years old;
  • Removing the provision within the law that permits higher education institutions to require tenured employees to retire at 70 years old;
  • Expanding the remedies available to an employee required to retire due to age to include all remedies available under the LAD and not just reinstatement of employment with back pay.

Weinberg said one of the provisions of the new law rights a wrong from more than 80 years ago.

“I am particularly pleased that one provision of this new law serves to delete language dating back to 1938 that permitted an employer to force retirement on an individual if that employer can show that ‘age bears a manifest relationship to the employment in question,’” she said.

“This sort of vague, subjective wording has no place in any state that professes to care about all of its workers.”

Murphy agreed.

“Discrimination of any kind has no place in New Jersey,” he said. “Working across departments, alongside the Legislature and with our partners in advocacy, we are committed to rooting out discrimination and ensuring a stronger and fairer New Jersey for all, regardless of age.”

In addition to Weinberg, the primary sponsors of the bill include state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Ewing Twp.), and Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood), Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) and BettyLou DeCroce (R-Parsippany).

The quotes surrounding its passage were strong.

“70 is the new 50,” Turner said. “Older individuals are continuing to work either due to financial need or because they still have the energy, skills and experience to offer the workforce.”

Vainieri Huttle and McKnight agreed.

“Not every worker has the luxury of retiring at age 65,” they said in a joint statement. “Some will still need to work well into their golden years to be able to live independently. Others may simply want to keep working for their own personal fulfillment.

“In any case, older workers should be able to retire by their own volition, not because an employer forced them out solely because of their age.”

For Vainieri Huttle and McKnight, the law is about changing perceptions.

“This discriminatory practice furthers unfounded assumptions about age and ability, and restricts opportunities for older adults in the workforce who may still need a source of income,” they said. “This new law is long overdue.

“It’s time to update our state laws to fully prohibit age discrimination in the workplace and open doors for older workers to stay employed.”