It doesn’t take much to send an age discrimination case to trial. Employees who can show direct evidence of age discrimination will get their day in court.
That direct evidence often comes after someone who played a part in making an employment decision (e.g., helped select a candidate for hire or promotion) makes a careless statement after the fact. Sometimes, the decision-maker may even be set up by someone who agrees to ask a question designed to trigger an admission that the person who got the job was selected because of age.
Recent case: Jean King worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was 54 years old when she applied for a promotion.
The selection committee included four managers, one of whom was the regional director. The committee reviewed all the applications for basic qualifications and then picked the top six candidates for phone interviews. Then they narrowed the list to just two candidates: King and a woman who was 25. They gave the job to the younger woman.
Shortly after, one of King’s co-workers was attending a retirement party and had a conversation about workplace morale with one of the committee members. The man said he was working especially hard because the regional director wanted to “hire younger educated people to fill our positions.”
When King sued for age discrimination, the court said that remark was direct evidence of possible age discrimination. It ordered a jury trial. (King v. USA, et al., No. 08-1766, 8th Cir., 2009)
Final note: Loose lips sink ships. There is absolutely no need to mention youth in conjunction with any hiring decision. No good can come of such comments. It’s fine to discuss educational qualifications and relevant experience, but really, why publicly discuss the selection process at all?
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