One innocent interview question that could land you in court

Do you ask applicants what year they graduated from high school or college (or otherwise finished their education)? Does your application re­­quest that information?

Watch out!

As this case shows, 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 then you wind up hiring someone younger.

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

Recent case: When Jason interviewed for a job with an Illinois insurance company, the hiring manager asked Jason when he graduated from college. He replied: 1989.

Hiring for Attitude D

The company eventually hired another applicant, who revealed during his interview that he graduated in 1994.

Jason sued, alleging age discrimination.

The court let Jason’s case proceed to a jury trial, reasoning that the company could have deduced that Jason was older than 40 by doing some simple math. And it was likely the candidate who graduated in 1994 was under 40 at the time. (Nieman v. Grange Mutual Insurance, et al., No. 11-3404, CD IL, 2012)

25 most dangerous questions

Job interviews present a minefield of legal problems. If you ask questions relating to certain legally protected characteristics—race, age, religion, gender, disability, national origin, etc.—you open yourself to a lawsuit if that applicant is rejected.

For a list of the 25 most legally dangerous questions, go to