While businesses in California and the across the United States cannot discriminate against employees for being over the age of 40, a new decision from the 7th Circuit casts doubt on whether those protections extend to the hiring process.
In this case, a 58-year-old man applied for a legal position with a large medical device company. Despite his strong qualifications, the company refused to interview him and ultimately awarded the position to a less-qualified candidate who happened to be 29 years old. The man filed an age discrimination suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, arguing that the discrimination had a disparate impact on him. When the case got to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court disagreed. In their ruling, the court held that the "plain language" of the ADEA made it clear Congress only intended the statute to apply to discrimination against current employees. It was the court's belief that Congress did not intend for those protections to extend to job applicants.
The decision runs counter to the conventional wisdom and common practices in the area of employment law. It's important to note that this decision was from a circuit court and, as such, only applies to the states in the 7th Circuit. For this decision to apply to all 50 states, the Supreme Court would have to take this issue up on appeal and affirm the 7th Circuit's decision.
Despite this ruling, the ADEA continues to protect older workers from being treated differently than younger workers. Any worker over 40 who has been a victim of age discrimination may have a claim under the ADEA. An attorney with experience in employment law may be able to help that person pursue their claim and obtain compensation.