Ben Hellwege: “‘The Federal Government Can and Should Provide Maximum Leadership’: The Problem of Age Discrimination and the Failure of Executive Order 11141, 1956-1967”

Ben Hellwege

“’The Federal Government Can and Should Provide Maximum Leadership’: The Problem of Age Discrimination and the Failure of Executive Order 11141, 1956-1967″

Friday, February 7
2:30pm

Hellwege-cloud

On February 12, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order (E.O.) 11141, which sought to provide “maximum leadership” by the federal government on the issue of age discrimination in the workplace by expressly affirming that “it is the policy of the Executive Branch of the Government that contractors and subcontractors engaged in the performance of Federal contracts shall not, in connection with the employment, advancement, or discharge of employees, or in connection with the terms, conditions, or privileges of their employment, discriminate against persons because of their age except upon the basis of a bona fide occupational qualification, retirement plan, or statutory requirement.” The idea for the order, a Department of Labor initiative, had originated in a memo which President John F. Kennedy’s staff had circulated within the various Executive branch departments nearly a year beforehand in March 1963. After a period of heated internal agency review, Executive Order 11141’s language was reworked and made more amenable before its formal announcement. The revamped order was a shadow of its former self. Its length had been increased but its language had been weakened: in its final form, the Executive Order lacked any implantation device or enforcement language; nor was it placed under the supervision of any federal agency. In other words, it was a paper tiger, and a particularly toothless one at that. Despite the high hopes of well-placed individuals in the Kennedy-Johnson administration that Executive Order 11141 could function cut down on workplace discrimination, the order failed to accomplish its stated purpose.

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