When employers choose the youngest candidate for a job, older candidates may suspect age bias played a role. That could mean a lawsuit is looming.
If a disappointed applicant sues, it won’t help the employer that the overall candidate pool included many older applicants. What matters is who was selected, not the others who weren’t chosen.
Recent case: Devon Shelley was 54 years old, with 29 years of experience and a graduate degree when he sought three promotions. He wasn’t selected, nor was he even interviewed. Shelley sued, alleging he was clearly qualified for the position and passed over in favor of a less qualified 42-year-old without a graduate degree.
The employer argued that although it didn’t interview Shelley, it did interview five older applicants, including one that was a year older than Shelley.
That didn’t cut it with the federal appeals court. It reasoned that what counted wasn’t the number of older applicants who made it into the interview pool, but which applicant was ultimately picked. It sent the case back to a lower court for trial. (Shelley v. Geren, No. 10-35014, 9th Cir., 2012)
Final note: Find out if supervisors and managers harbor hidden age bias by conducting an informal internal audit. Choosing the youngest candidate on a single occasion probably doesn’t indicate a problem, but doing so frequently may.
Be especially careful when the applicant pool has many older applicants and just a handful of younger ones. That happens fairly frequently these days; the Great Recession significantly affected job prospects for older workers. That means your candidate pool may see increasingly older applicants seeking out jobs for which they may appear “overqualified” in experience and education compared with younger applicants.
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