Does an 'experience range' read as age discrimination?
- An employee can continue with his claim that an upper limit on work experience may amount to age discrimination, a federal district court judge determined, denying a motion for summary judgment filed by STMicroelectronics, Inc.
- Charles Owen worked for STM as a temp in 2008 for about one year, filling in for an employee who was on assignment in China. In 2013, he was asked to return to STM to fill a second vacancy. Upon his return, he learned the position he had filled in 2008 was now vacant and applied for the job.
- The job posting specified that the company desired about 10 years of experience. Owen met all the criteria for the opening but was told by the person to whom he was reporting at the time that they didn’t want “someone with so much experience that they would be inflexible.” Owen was in his 60s, and the job ultimately went to a 36-year-old candidate. Owen sued, and the judge refused to dismiss his claim, saying that "a reasonable juror could find [the supervisor's] comment about experience and inflexibility to be indicative of age discrimination."
The court determined that the evidence presented was sufficient to take the case to trial — notable, as ageism has come under scrutiny as of late. While the company may not have intended to discriminate against more seasoned candidates, language in job descriptions and from recruiters may be fraught with terms that skew against protected groups. "Digital native" is one such descriptor that may turn away those with more experience. "Culture fit" is another term that’s lost favor, as many companies have found that the generic term relies on subjective criteria that may be biased to exclude candidates.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is taking a hard look at age discrimination and has promised to ramp up enforcement on the matter. In an investigation opened recently against Intel, EEOC is reviewing whether the company’s 10,000 global layoffs in the last three years were motivated by age. IBM also recently came under fire by the agency for reportedly “skirting” age discrimination laws. Small firms aren’t immune, either; a slip of the tongue recently cost a staffing agency $50,000 when an applicant was told “age will matter.”
Experts call age discrimination, outlawed for more than half a century, an "open secret" in the U.S. today: up to two-thirds of employees age 45 to 74 report having experienced or observed age discrimination in the workplace, according to one study. For employers looking to create a more diverse recruiting pipeline, a significant effort to remove barriers for older candidates may be needed.
- U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Owen v. STMicroelectronics, Inc.