Yes you can still be sued for age discrimination

In “The Ugly Truth About Age Discrimination,” author Liz Ryan writes:

“[Age discrimination] is the only kind of employment discrimination I know of that people talk about openly, either because they’re unaware of the laws preventing it … or because they don’t care.”

The article opens with a story about Philip, a job seeker turned away by a headhunter who decides Philip is “a little long in the tooth for the job.”

If you’re tempted to think that Ryan is off the mark and Philip must be a rare case (because how many people in this day and age would dare say such a thing?) you might want to think again.

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Good genes can only go so far

My mother was very youthful looking, and people regularly tell me I don’t look my age either. Regardless of your looks, however, once you qualify for protection under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), most likely you’re going to need it at some point.

In my line of business, I run into a lot of people (both recruiters and job seekers, actually) who have all kinds of stories about age bias to tell.

One of my recruiter friends (my age) recounts how her coworker recruiters in their twenties would routinely pass over resumes of anyone they deemed to have “too many” years of experience, which of course is nothing but code for “too darn old.”

And not too long ago I had my own questionable encounter with a staffing agency, during which I was asked twice what year I graduated college, and twice I declined to answer. Later, I sent the owner of the agency an email informing him that this question reeked of bias, and he responded (in part):

“…we DO NOT discriminate based on age, sex, religion, creed, nationality or origin, [but] the fact of the matter is some people do. Based on the culture of some companies, they might not want someone over a certain age b/c they might not fit in. While I don’t agree with that practice, would you rather not waste time and interview at a company that would never hire you or simply move on and find one that wants you for all the right reasons?”

Would I be completely wrong to respond “Liar, liar pants on fire?” Seriously??? Someone “over a certain age” may not “fit in” some workplaces? Wow.

Reality check, please

In FY 2013, age discrimination charges totaled nearly 23 percent of the EEOC’s docket. That number is down from its peak of 25.8 percent in FY 2008 but still a good piece of the total pie.

Some recruiters are under the very mistaken impression that the prejudices of their clients are their client’s problems alone. In other words, if a client says, “Don’t send me any (fill-in-the-blank) candidates, and the recruiter complies—because hey, the employer isn’t going to hire any so and sos anyway, so what’s the point?—the recruiter/agency isn’t guilty of discrimination. That’s completely untrue, and this case and this case prove it. Better to let that client find someone else to drag through the mud.

The bottom line

Yes, this country worships youth, but refusing to hire someone (or even consider him for a job) for no other reason than you think he’s too old is just wrong, and you could be sued, too. (Okay, fine. Most likely you won’t be sued. But you could. And it’s still wrong.)

Plus consider this: If you live long enough, you yourself won’t be able to avoid aging—no matter how good your genes are.

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2 Comments on "Yes you can still be sued for age discrimination"

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I am a mature in number (age) female and I just receive my MBA 2013.  I have been employed by DOI/USPP since 2007 as a Term Appointment not to exceed two years. After the Term Appointment ended I became permanent around 2010.  To my surprise I have not been promoted, and I have applied to position and still have not been hired. I was a Top Candidate a couple a months ago for GSA; however they decided to go with another person. I called HR at GSA and the HR person said she had been out and let her check… Read more »
Crystal Spraggins

Hi Barbara:

Obviously I can’t know what happened in your situation, but I do know that age bias is very real and very frustrating for a number of qualified, skilled workers who have a lot to offer employers. Shame on them.