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The innocent question that could land you in court: When did you graduate?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Do you ask applicants when they graduated from high school or college or otherwise finished their education? Does your application re­­quest that information? Watch out!

That seemingly innocuous question could trigger an age discrimination lawsuit if an applicant’s graduation year makes it clear he’s 40 or older and you wound up hiring someone younger.

Limit your questions about edu­­cation to specifics like course of study and degrees earned.

Recent case: In 2010, Jason applied for a position with Grange Mutual Insurance. He got a telephone interview in which the company inquired what year he graduated from college. Jason re­­sponded that he earned his degree in 1989. Grange eventually hired another applicant, who revealed during his phone interview that he graduated in 1994.

Jason sued, alleging age discrimination.

The court said that Jason had enough to proceed with his claim, reasoning that the company could have guessed that Jason was older than 40 by doing some simple math. And it was possible that the candidate who graduated in 1994 was under age 40 at the time. (Of course, he could also have been much older if he earned his degree later in life, but the insurer didn’t claim that.) (Nieman v. Grange Mutual Insurance, et al., No. 11-3404, CD IL, 2012)

Final note: On the plus side, the court declined to consider Jason’s claim that the company must have also checked his age by looking at his LinkedIn profile.

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