For decades, federal law has protected job seekers over the age of 40 from age discrimination. But in a major blow to older applicants on Wednesday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Public Appeals ruled that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only protects current employees and does not cover external applicants.
Attorney Dale Kleber, who was 58 at the time he applied for the job, claimed in a lawsuit that medical supply company CareFusion passed him over for a senior position in its law department. Instead, the company hired a less experienced 29-year-old candidate.
CareFusion’s job description required applicants to have between three to seven years of relevant legal experience but no more than seven years; Kebler had more than seven years. Represented by AARP, Kleber brought suit under Section 4(a)(2) of the ADEA, arguing that the company’s seven-year experience cap discriminates against older workers. In an 8-4 decision, the majority contended that the statute was meant to protect employees within the company from being denied employment opportunities due to age, not applicants seeking employment.
“We strongly disagree with the decision and find it very disheartening that the Court interpreted a civil rights law so narrowly, despite the statutory language and the great weight of Supreme Court precedent,” says Dara Smith, a senior attorney for AARP Foundation.