An Iowan who is at the center of a national debate about age discrimination testified Wednesday at a hearing in the U.S. capitol.
In 2004 Jack Gross filed a lawsuit against Farm Bureau’s FBL Financial after his pay was cut and his duties were assigned to a younger colleague. A jury sided with Gross, but in 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Gross hadn’t proven his age was the sole determining factor in his demotion. Gross is among those urging congress to pass a bill to address that ruling.
“I’m here to tell you about the rollercoaster ride that I’ve been on,” Gross said yesterday at the opening of a House subcommittee hearing. “I ask that you remember my story is being duplicated millions of times across this country and ask you to envision the millions who are depending on your actions standing behind me in spirit. I know they are.”
According to Gross, it all started seven years ago when Farm Bureau “suddenly demoted all claims employees who were over 50” and who had supervisory positions. Gross argued age was the “obvious reason” he was demoted and Gross described himself as “optimistic” when he case was among those the Supreme Court chose to review.
“We got a shock at the Supreme Court,” Gross said. “…Since the Supreme Court’s decision in my case I’ve been particularly distressed…I hate having my name associated with the pain and injustice now being inflicted on other older workers because it’s now nearly impossible to provide the level of proof that’s required by this court.”
Gross is a southwest Iowa native who began working at the Farm Bureau in 1971. Gross was 54 years old when his duties were reassigned to a person he had been supervising. According to Gross, filing the lawsuit was a difficult step.
“We agonized. We thought about it. We sat down — we prayed about it. We decided it had to be done,” Gross said. “We left the outcome in God’s hands and if my experience eventually prevents anyone else from having to endure the pain and humiliation of discrimination I’ll always believe that this effort was part of God’s plan for my life and, by extension, perhaps for yours.”
Gross yesterday urged congress to pass a law that ensures employees are judged on their work rather than the “gray hairs” on their head. Congressman Dave Loebsack of Mount Vernon says 40 percent of Iowans would be covered, potentially, by the proposed “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act.”
“I think it’s very good, too, that we’re holding this hearing,” Loebsack said, “especially at the beginning of Older Americans Month.”
Watch Gross’ testimony before the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor.