Age Discrimination and the EEOC

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of Nancy Washington, a 66 year-old woman who Harold Washington College failed to hire, allegedly because of her age. Ms. Sullivan worked as an adjunct professor in the English department for five years before she applied for a full-time position. An EEOC investigation revealed that Ms. Sullivan had an excellent record as an adjunct professor and quality recommendations from her peers, yet was still passed over in favor of younger candidates.

Age Discrimination Complaints Still High

In addition to its role as a federal investigatory agency for employment discrimination claims, the EEOC has an enforcement arm as well. In the majority of cases however, the EEOC tries to determine whether there is a cause of action for the employee to file a private lawsuit if their employer refuses to settle the claim.

In fiscal year 2013, the EEOC reported receiving 21,396 employee charges of age discrimination. This is a decline from the record-high of the more than 24,000, received in fiscal year 2008, but is still a staggering number that costs employers significant amounts of money.

Many older employees are reeling from the effects of age discrimination in the workforce. As the Chicago City College case study shows, well-qualified, older employees are frequently passed over for open positions in favor of younger candidates with the potential for longer tenures. This illegal workplace practice can yield costly results.

Age Discrimination Can be Confusing and Complex

Managers and HR professionals routinely reject older applicants or employees for being “overqualified” for certain positions. In today’s tightening job market, such discrimination can be devastating to older applicants seeking to remain in the workforce. An employer cannot refuse to hire an applicant simply out of a belief the applicant will be dissatisfied with job’s requirements. Courts routinely hold that the term “overqualified” is merely a veiled term for age discrimination.

Anti-Discrimination Training

Since the EEOC filed a lawsuit against the Chicago City College system on Ms. Sullivan’s behalf, the College will need to expend significant resources going forward. In addition to ensuring age-neutral policies in all aspects of employment, managers, supervisors and other school officials will need to be trained (or re-trained) to comply with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), Older Workers Benefits Protection Act (“OWBPA”), and other federal and state laws that address age discrimination. In this case, and many others, an ounce of effective prevention may have avoided a pound of expensive cure in the courts.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing online Ethics and HR compliance training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670.


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