Have you ever felt that punched-in-the-gut feeling after clicking “Send” and realizing you blasted an email to the wrong person? As the CEO in this case learned, one misguided email mixed with poor judgment can stir up a potent legal stew.
The case: Kenneth, 46, applied for ajob at an Idaho financial company. He emailed his cover letter and résumé. Within 10 days, Kenneth heard back, but not with the message he expected.
The company’s CEO had mistakenly sent Kenneth an email that was intended for a subordinate. The CEO’s email referred to Kenneth’s résumé, stating, “Damn … He must be old—and just looking for something to do.”
Kenneth never heard anything else. He assumed his application was rejected because of his age, so he filed a lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
The verdict: The court sided with Kenneth and sent the case to trial, citing the smoking-gun email. It said, “This broad, negative characterization of older employees is precisely the type of prohibited stereotype the ADEA seeks to remedy and gives rise to an inference of discrimination.”
Lessons learned: Choose your words—both spoken and written—carefully. Never say or write anything that is discriminatory or that you wouldn’t want shown in front of a jury. Otherwise, you’re creating your own evidence against yourself.
Follow your hiring and promotion procedures to be fair and consistent with all applicants. In court, it’s critical to be able to show that you handle all hiring activities consistently with your policies and procedures.
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