WASHINGTON (AP) — Age-related discrimination in the workplace still exists 50 years after the enactment of legislation designed to prevent it, aging experts and advocates told the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Wednesday.

Laurie McCann, senior attorney for the AARP Foundation Litigation, said the law “should not be treated as a second-class civil rights statute providing older workers far less protection than other civil rights laws.”

McCann urged the EEOC to be more aggressive in pursuing age discrimination cases.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first in a series aimed at assessing the state of age discrimination 50 years after it became illegal. During the meeting, the commissioners listened to experts and asked questions about possible solutions but there was no set plan for how to address the concerns raised.

Victoria Lipnic, acting EEOC chair, said the commission would work to “ensure opportunities are based on ability, not age.”

The agency receives about 20,000 age discrimination complaints each year, with women more likely to file them than men, she said.

“No one should be denied a job or should lose a job based on assumptions or stereotypes,” Lipnic said.

McCann said discrimination begins as early as the job search. She cited job listings that include maximum years of experience and others that require applicants to be “digital natives,” meaning the applicants grew up using technology.

Research conducted by Patrick Button, assistant professor at Tulane University, examined more than 40,000 applications or resumes sent for 13,000 job postings across the country. The positions were mostly entry-level, a type of job both young workers and older workers often try to get. On average, the resumes were identical but senior applicants, those between 64 and 66 years old, got fewer call backs. The research also found that for older women, the discrimination is more severe and it starts much earlier compared to older men.

“It seems pretty clear that our challenge as a society is to change the way in which individuals who hire, promote or fire workers think about the category of ‘older workers’ or think about the category of ‘older female workers,’” said Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum.

Commissioner Jenny R. Yang said she was concerned about the possibility of older workers being excluded from the tech industry, which is growing rapidly. Yang cited a study that estimated that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million new tech jobs but only 400,000 skilled workers. She said older workers need technology skills to be able to be a part of that growing economy.


EDITOR’S NOTE — Maria Ines Zamudio is studying aging and workforce issues as part of a 10-month fellowship at The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which joins NORC’s independent research and AP journalism. The fellowship is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.