U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon declined to say Thursday during a teleconference with AARP members if she would support a bipartisan anti-discrimination bill protecting older workers.
Instead, the Republican nominee invoked her experiences firing workers while chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, saying she was scrupulous in making sure termination was for performance, not age or other bias.
“I could not have done that in good conscience,” McMahon said. “And I would fight to make sure those regulations are absolutely upheld, because it’s wrong to have any kind of discrimination.”
But she never took a position on the Protecting Older American Against Discrimination Act, a Senate bill vigorously supported by AARP and sponsored by Democratic lawmakers, with some Republican co-sponsors.
McMahon appeared to have a single goal during the call: reassuring the more than 500,000 Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries in Connecticut she would do nothing to cut benefits for those retired or soon to retire.
“This is a pledge we’ve made to our seniors,” McMahon said. “You’ve earned it. You rely on it.”
McMahon, 64, of Greenwich, the independently wealthy co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment, said she would oppose efforts by fellow Republicans to privatize elements of either program.
She began the teleconference with the obvious agenda of rebutting advertising claims by her Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, 39, of Cheshire. He has his own teleconference with AARP members Friday.
Murphy has pointed to previous statements by McMahon in which she appeared willing to consider GOP proposals to turn Medicare into a private voucher system and to one forum in which she talks about “sunset provisions” for Social Security.
“My opponent has indicated at times I have talked about sunsetting Social Security or Medicare, and that is absolutely not the case,” she said. “I will work very, very hard to put in place legislation to make sure that it is sound, that it continues.”
As she has through four televised debates and much of her campaign, McMahon seldom strayed from familiar talking points: She would protect Social Security and Medicare, without giving specifics; and every issue is subordinate to the economy.
A question about her position on the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act led McMahon to talk broadly about the economy, not her views on the right to sue for job discrimination.
“I think that what we need to do is make sure that we have health care that is affordable for everyone and that our economy is strong, so that folks who are working, who are older, are going to get more benefit, not less benefit,” McMahon said. “Because if we have, again, a strong economy where we have returned our working population and put more money in their pocket so they buy more goods and services, we will have raised the quality of everyone’s life.”
One caller, David from Bridgeport, was unsatisfied: “Mrs. McMahon, you’ve been asked a couple of times about age discrimination and it seems to me you’ve completely danced around the question.”
The proposed employment bill is a response to a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas in 2009 that shifts the burden in age discrimination cases from employer to the worker.
Until the ruling, if a worker showed age was a factor in an adverse employment decision such as a demotion or layoff, the burden was on the company to show it acted for a reason other than age.
Critics of the ruling say it subjects older workers to a more difficult standard than plaintiffs bringing other forms of discrimination cases, such as those based on disability, gender or race.
McMahon is supported by groups generally wary of subjecting business to more litigation, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Rather than taking a stand on the legislation, McMahon responded by expressing a general abhorrence of discrimination.
“I can tell you that as an employer, I’ve been in those situations where we have, you know, if someone has to be let go from the company, you have to make sure that you are not releasing them for anything other than performance,” McMahon said.
McMahon was the chief executive of the Stamford-based WWE until shortly before her first run for U.S. Senate in 2010.
“It’s always been very important to me to judge the value of each and every employee and not to ever make a decision to let someone go based on any form of discrimination,” McMahon said.