The EEOC Ignored Precedent in Dismissing Two Age Discrimination Cases

The EEOC ignored legal precedent in August when it dismissed two age discrimination cases where older job applicants were rejected in favor of  far less qualified applicants under the age of 40.

A search of precedential case law on the EEOC ‘s own web site  revealed a federal appeals court decision holding that an employer’s failure to hire a candidate who is significantly better qualified for the job raises a question of illegal discrimination.

This precedent was not followed by Carlton M. Hadden, Jr., director of the EEOC’s appellate unit, who dismissed two age discrimination complaints in August.  The cases were filed by a female attorney, 60, and a white police detective, 48, who were not hired despite having substantially more objective qualifications than selectees under the age of 40. The EEOC upheld Hadden’s rulings. In the attorney’s case, the hiring officer testified he ignored objective qualifications entirely and based his hiring decisions on cultural fit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2006 cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that “qualifications evidence may suffice, at least in some circumstances,” to show that an employer’s proffered explanation is pretext for discrimination. Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 546 U.S. 454, 457, 126 S.Ct. 1195, 163 L.Ed.2d 1053 (2006).

Memo to EEOC: There is an inference of discrimination when when a plaintiff is “significantly better qualified” than the candidate who was hired.

The DC Court outlined how qualifications should be evaluated to assess  the employer’s  crediblity:

“If a factfinder can conclude that a reasonable employer would have found the plaintiff to be significantly better qualified for the job, but this employer did not, the factfinder can legitimately infer that the employer consciously selected a less-qualified candidate — something that employers do not usually do, unless some other strong consideration, such as discrimination, enters into the picture.” (emphasis added)

The EEOC did not cite any legal authority to justify ignoring objective qualifications in age discrimination cases The EEOC repeatedly has upheld the importance of qualifications in race discrimination cases. It appears the EEOC is attempting to insure that young workers, especially minority applicants, get federal jobs, and not older applicants (including minority workers).  But it’s the EEOC’s job to enforce existing laws. If Congress wanted to grant preference to younger workers, it could amend or repeal the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

It is the job of the EEOC to implement federal discrimination laws consistently and fairly, and not to pursue its own ends.

Hadden ruled a hiring officer for the Social Security Administration did not discriminate when he admittedly ignored the 60-year-old attorney’s qualifications and hired four attorneys under the age of 40 based on his perception of cultural fit.  The hiring officer testified the attorney had superior objective qualifications compared to some or all of the selectees, many of whom were recent law school graduates. Hadden and the EEOC did not cite any legal authority to justify ignoring objective credentials.

In the other case, Hadden ruled a 48-year-old white male police detective, who had 20 years of high-level experience in law enforcement, failed to show he was more qualified for a lead officer position at a Texas veteran’s hospital than a female African-American in her 20s whose experience was limited to a stint in the Army military police. Hadden writes in his decision that the female candidate “arguably has more experience in the intangible areas sought by the (hiring panel), such as poise, compassion, leadership, and the ability to cope with stress…”

In both cases, the EEOC also ignored serious procedural irregularities by the hiring agencies.

There may be many more cases in which the EEOC ignored legal precedent regarding qualifications in age discrimination cases; the EEOC takes the position that its cases are secret unless the EEOC decides to file a lawsuit.

The matter is not academic. Plaintiffs and the business community rely on legal precedent as a guidepost to determine whether to file or defend an age discrimination complaint.  And the U.S. government paid tens of thousands of dollars to defend and process the two cases in question.

The complainants were denied jobs, income and benefits and spent years working to vindicate their rights before the EEOC, only to have their cases dismissed on the equivalent of a whim.

The D.C. Circuit ruling was made in a case involving Gary Hamilton, a black male industrial hygienist for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) who alleged he was not promoted to manager because of his race and gender. Both Hamilton and the selectee, a white woman, received perfect scores on the IRS’s ranking of relevant knowledge and abilities for the job. IRS officials testified that they chose the white woman because she performed better than Hamilton in the interview process.

The D.C. Circuit reinstated Hamilton’s complaint.  “We believe that, when taken together, the evidence of a significant disparity in the candidates’ qualifications, the highly subjective nature of the [Agency’s] proffered nondiscriminatory explanation, and the absence of any contemporaneous documentation supporting that explanation could lead a reasonable jury to disbelieve the [Agency] and reach a verdict in Hamilton’s favor,” writes the court. The case is Hamilton v. Geithner, 666 F.3d 1344, and 1352-57 (D.C. Cir. 2012).

Just to really confuse the situation, the EEOC in September filed a lawsuit against a group of CBS–owned television stations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, claiming they engaged in age discrimination  when they offered the job of weather caster to two “less qualified” candidates in their 20s. The EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of Tammy Domback Campbell, 42,  a veteran weather caster who was performing the job on a freelance basis

The EEOC has declined to comment about its confusing stance on qualifications in hiring.

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EEOC Refuses to Comment About Allowing Hiring Officer to Ignore Objective Qualifications in Age Discrimination Case

lipnic
Acting EEOC Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic

The EEOC  has declined to comment on its decision to uphold an administrative ruling that dismissed an age discrimination case where a hiring officer said he ignored objective qualifications and hired workers based on cultural fit. 

The ruling by Carlton M. Hadden, director of the EEOC Office of Federal Operations, involved an allegation of age discrimination by a 60-year-old woman who was not selected for one of five vacancies for the position of attorney decision-writer at a new Social Security Administration office in Reno, NV in 2011.

The novice hiring officer testified that he completely ignored objective qualifications when he selected five applicants under the age of 40.   After three or four applicants declined the job, the hiring officer selected a 42-year-old male applicant. The hiring officer initially said he rejected the 60-year-old female applicant because she lacked enthusiasm during a 20-minute telephone interview. He agreed  she was more objectively qualified than most or all of the other applicants but said she did not fit within his perception of SSA “culture.” 

Hadden upheld an Administrative Law Judge’s finding that “reliance on subjective criteria is appropriate and necessary when the selection, as here, involves consideration of collegial, professional, teamwork, and administrative abilities that do not lend themselves to objective measurement.” Continue reading “EEOC Refuses to Comment About Allowing Hiring Officer to Ignore Objective Qualifications in Age Discrimination Case”

Feds Defense of Discriminatory Hiring Program; It’s Legal?

PathwaysThe worst thing about the federal government’s policy of institutionalized age discrimination is that it undermines respect in the government’s promise to insure equal justice for all.

The Office of Program Management in Washington, DC, recently defended the Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program, which allows federal agencies to limit job vacancies to individuals who graduated from high school, technical school and college within the past two years.

Yasmin A. Rosa, who identifies herself as “lead EEO Specialist” for the OPM, states in a recent letter that the Pathways Program “does not discriminate against anyone” because it is legal under an executive order signed in 2010 by former Democratic President Barack H. Obama.

(So, wait a minute, slavery and denying women the right to vote weren’t discriminatory because they were legal?) Continue reading “Feds Defense of Discriminatory Hiring Program; It’s Legal?”

Behind the Scenes: Discrimination by Job Search Engines

WalmartGreeterSeveral years ago, I filed a formal complaint with the EEOC that attorney internet job search web sites were blatantly discriminating in hiring on the basis of age.

I did this after finding dozens of ads targeting members of the most recent graduating class(es) on Lawjobs.com.

Months later, the EEOC, which supposedly implements the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), sent me a piece of paper saying that it was not going to do anything but I could file a lawsuit if I wanted to. Not being independently wealthy, I had no choice but to pass.

Today, I looked again. I found absolutely no ads on Lawjobs.com for “recent graduates” or “members of the Class of….”  What does this mean?

Does it mean the search engine is not engaging in age discrimination or does it mean that age discrimination is now taking place behind the scenes?

It’s hard to conclude that Lawjobs.com has gone “straight” given a series of events that have come to light which showcase the role of internet job search engines in age discrimination.

In the case of Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, the plaintiff applied a half-dozen times for a territory sales manager job only to learn the company was using internet software behind the scenes on Careerbuilder.com to target resumes from workers  with fewer than eight years of experience.

Reynolds hired 1,024 applicants for territory sales manager positions over a three-year period, of whom only 19 were over the age of 40.

A federal appeals court last year eliminated any prospect for a class action lawsuit in the Reynolds case when it ruled the ADEA does not cover job applicants who are the victims of systemic and calculated age discrimination in hiring because they are not “employees.” This ruling, by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta,  remains in effect today in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a press release recently stating she began  investigating alleged age discrimination by internet search engines after a 70-year-old man complained that a resume building tool on Jobr, an app owned by Monster Worldwide, excluded job applicants over the age of 52. A drop down menu required applicants to select the year they graduated or got their first job but the dates only went back to 1980.

Madigan queried six job search engines about their practices. So far, three have responded, CareerBuilder, Beyond and Indeed. All admitted to using resume building software containing age limitations that deter older applicants; all said they fixed the software upon learning of Madigan’s concerns.

I think it is reasonable to conclude that many (if not most) internet search engines for years have silently engaged in age discrimination against older job applicants. This has contributed to longstanding chronic unemployment for older workers, who often are forced to retire as soon as they become eligible to receive Social Security benefits, whereupon they quietly disappear from government employment statistics. Age discrimination in hiring makes it impossible for older job applicants to earn a decent wage and to finance a secure retirement. As a result, many, particularly women, endure an old age marked by difficult choices, anxiety and poverty.

But who is going to stop it?

Madigan told NPR that her office simply wants to stop the specific practice that relates to discriminatory resume building tools but not file a lawsuit.

The AARP has done virtually nothing about age discrimination in employment for 50 years; It wrote an amicus or friend of the court brief in the Reynolds case.

The EEOC is almost completely absent from the age discrimination scene, despite an unprecedented increase in age discrimination complaints during and since the Great Recession. It filed two – yes, two – lawsuits with age discrimination claims last year. Age discrimination complaints comprise almost a quarter of all complaints received by the EEOC.

Me? Alas, I still can’t afford to finance years of complex litigation against some of America’s largest corporations.

My 2014 book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, chronicles the epic failure of all three branches of government to address the completely predictable problem of age discrimination during and since the collapse of Wall Street. It is an  appalling abdication of governmental responsibility and it continues.

Warning to Job Search Engines About Age Discrimination in Hiring

madigan-lisa Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has warned six national career and job search companies that some of their search functions could violate state and federal age discrimination laws.

In a press release Thursday, Madigan announced she has sent letters seeking information about company practices from  Chicago-based CareerBuilder, Indeed, Beyond.com, Ladders, Inc., Monster Worldwide Inc. and Vault.

Madigan expressed concern about practices that appear to prevent older workers from creating accurate resumes and profiles when searching for new careers and submitting information to potential employers.

In particular, she focused upon sites that require job seekers to input dates of previous work experience and education but only allow those born after a certain year to do so. For example, one company provided 1980 as the earliest possible choice for users’ education or previous employment start dates.  Users over the age of 52 were unable to complete accurate profiles to apply for available positions.

Madigan’s Civil Rights Bureau is examining these practices.

It’s no secret that internet job search engines for years have quietly used software to divert applications by older workers into a digital trash can.

The problem of discriminatory practices by job search engines vividly came to light in a 2012 lawsuit filed against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. by Richard M. Villarreal, who at age 49 submitted the first of several  unsuccessful internet job applications to Reynolds. Villarreal filed an age discrimination lawsuit after learning that Reynolds  had contracted with two recruiting firms to develop internet screening tools to screen out applicants having eight to ten years of experience. CareerBuilder.com was a defendant in that case.

The Villarreal case ultimately was gutted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which ruled that job applicants cannot sue employers under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) for promulgating policies and practices that discriminate in hiring on the basis of age. The appeals court said the ADEA does not cover job applicants, only employees.

Since then, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled in the case of Rabin v. PriceWaterhouseCoopers that the ADEA does permit so-called disparate impact lawsuits on behalf of job applicants.

Madigan cites both the ADEA and the Illinois Human Rights Act.

“Today’s workforce includes many people working in their 70’s and 80’s,” Madigan said in the release. “Barring older people from commonly used job-search sites because of their age is discriminatory and negatively impacts our economy.”