How to Tell If It Was Age Discrimination

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This may be the year of the 55-and-older worker. These employees have seen their rate of employment grow by 5 percent over the last 12 months. Yet, despite the employment gains, many older workers and job seekers still say they feel the sting of age bias, according to employment attorney Michael D. Karpeles, principal and head of the labor and employment law group Goldberg Kohn Bell Black Rosenbloom & Moritz Ltd. There were 19,124 age discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2003, down only slightly from a 2002 figure of 19,921, the highest in more than a decade.

How can older job seekers determine whether age is being factored into the hiring decision? What are the options for a person who feels he or she is being discriminated against? Karpeles recommends keeping track of who ended up getting hired for the position you were seeking if you believe you’re not getting hired because of your age. “If the persons hired were substantially younger (10 or more years) and their qualifications are inferior to yours, you may in fact have a valid age discrimination claim,” he says. “Usually it is hard to find out this information, however, so you may only have age-based comments during the interview or age-related inquiries during the interview or on the job application. If you have some evidence like this beyond a mere hunch, you could file a claim with the EEOC or your state or local human rights agency, and they will help you file and process a claim for discrimination.”

But he says that other factors unrelated to age provide employers with lawful reasons to reject a job applicant. “If several employers have passed you over, age may not be the issue. My practical advice is to ask the employer in a respectful way why you didn’t get the job. You may learn something valuable about your skills or interviewing techniques that could be improved,” Karpeles says.