U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

ADEA@50 Snapshots: 1987-1997

ADEA@30 (1987 - 1997): Congress overturns a Supreme Court decision to restore the ADEA's protection of employee benefits and expands ADEA protections to waivers of rights and claims.

Congress passes the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA), and the Supreme Court continues recognition of the shared purposes of the ADEA and Title VII.

In Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio v. Betts, 492 U.S. 158 (1989), the Supreme Court holds that the ADEA generally does not prohibit discrimination in employee benefits and invalidates an EEOC regulation concerning such benefits.

Congress responds swiftly to the Betts decision, enacting the OWBPA to amend the ADEA to explicitly prohibit age discrimination in employee benefits and to ensure waivers of rights and claims are knowing and voluntary. Urging passage of the OWBPA, Rep. Henry Clay (D-MO), implores:

This is not a complicated employee benefits issue. It is a fundamental civil rights issue. We do not permit employers to pay an older worker less than a younger worker solely because of age; employers must be prohibited from providing smaller benefits or no benefits solely because of their age or other proxies for age; for example, pension or Medicare eligibility. Cong. Rec. H8617 (October 2, 1990).

One year later, Congress also passes the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which overturns several Title VII Supreme Court decisions, expands remedies under Title VII, and provides the same statute of limitations for filing an ADEA lawsuit that applies to Title VII lawsuits.

In a 1995 decision, McKennon v. Nashville Banner Publishing Co., 513 U.S. 352, 357-58 (1995), the Supreme Court continues to emphasize the ADEA's close relationship to Title VII:

The ADEA, enacted in 1967 as part of an ongoing congressional effort to eradicate discrimination in the workplace, reflects a societal condemnation of invidious bias in employment decisions. The ADEA is but part of a wider statutory scheme to protect employees in the workplace nationwide. See Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (citations omitted).