Age discrimination case raises important issue for older workers

A San Diego-based health care technology firm, CareFusion, has been sued in an important age discrimination case. While the plaintiff lives in Illinois, the outcome will affect age-discrimination cases all over the country, including California.

The plaintiff is a 58-year-old attorney with over 30 years of experience. He served as general counsel at a food company and CEO of a dairy products trade group. He had been unemployed for about three years when he saw an ad for a legal position from CareFusion, saying that it was looking for an attorney with “3 to 7 years” of relevant legal experience. The plaintiff thought that he could competently fill the position and submitted an application. The company never responded.

The man then commenced a lawsuit under the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, arguing that the specification of a maximum number of years of experience had the effect of discriminating against him and other older applicants. The central issue is whether the federal statute allows lawsuits by external job applicants or is restricted to claims by in-house and former employees of the defendant. The plaintiff’s claim was dismissed by the trial court, but a three-judge panel of the appellate court reversed that decision. The company asked for a re-hearing before all the judges that sit on the court. The matter was argued and is now awaiting a ruling.

Job ads that specify a maximum number of years of experience are common. While all companies deny that the age cap is a form of workplace discrimination, an attorney for the AARP has said that “specifying a maximum number of years of experience has a clear disparate impact on older applicants.” Anyone who feels they have been rejected for a job because of their age may wish to consult an attorney who is experienced in handling such claims.

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