E-Mail Mistake Means Age Bias Lawsuit Can Proceed
An email mistakenly sent to a job applicant by a company CEO stating “He must be old” gives an inference of possible age discrimination, thus the claim may proceed to a trial, a federal district court in Idaho rules.
The claimant had responded to a job advertisement with his resume, and received an email (intended for another individual) from the company’s CEO which stated in part: “I’m here late trying to get through emails – I just saw this one I missed somehow and it is a week old. Check it out – I don’t know what I think. He must be old – and just looking for something to do.” When the job applicant failed to receive any further communication about the position, he concluded the company had rejected his application and filed an age discrimination charge with the Idaho Human Rights Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In dismissing the employer’s contention to reject the case, the district court says that the comment “he must be old – and just looking for something to do” referred directly to the claimant. “It is not analogous to comments referencing ‘grey hair’ and ‘old timers’ generally, nor is it analogous to colloquialisms such as ‘old boy network.’ Therefore, it cannot be accurately characterized as off-hand or unspecific. The comment particularly indicates a discriminatory animus in the ‘and just looking for something to do’ phrase. ‘He must be old’ could be characterized as a mere observation, not necessarily discriminatory. However, ‘and just looking for something to do’ runs afoul of the ‘[t]he prohibited stereotype …that the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) seeks to remedy,’ namely, that older employees…are likely to be looking for work to just keep themselves busy, rather than looking for work with the more desirable motivations of working hard and advancing their career. This broad, negative characterization of older employees is precisely the type of prohibited stereotype the ADEA seeks to remedy and gives rise to an inference of discrimination,” the court says. Wold v. El Centro Finance Inc.