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Age Discrimination in Hiring

September 14, 2009

JackGanssle-September 14, 2009

When I was a teenager my dad ran a help-wanted ad. He was trying to hire an engineer, and in the ad had placed the phrase "this is a great opportunity for a young engineer to develop his career" in the copy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission nailed him for using the word "young." (This was a long time ago and "his" was apparently just fine.) Though he wasn't trying to discriminate as he was extolling an entry-level position, the ad violated the (at the time) new Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

Forty years later age (and gender) discrimination happily remains illegal. But it's not uncommon. The EEOC recently filed a lawsuit against AT&T for violating the law.

Almost 25,000 age bias complaints were filed against companies in the US in 2008, up 30% over the previous year. A complaint, of course, is not an indictment, but last year only about half of the charges were determined to not be cases of discrimination.

Joanna Lahey of Texas A&M found that companies are at least 40% more likely to bring a younger than an older worker in for an interview.

It's even acknowledged in advertising. At least one vendor of products for removing gray from hair (I'd need a swimming pool full of the gunk) makes the case that less grey means better chances at landing a job.

Pierce Brosnan claims he didn't get another shot at a James Bond role due to his age. Me, I always liked Sean Connery, especially as he got older.

Recently, the Supreme Court has toughened the rules for workers who file complaints. Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion: "We hold that a plaintiff bringing a disparate-treatment claim pursuant to the ADEA must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that age was the 'but-for' cause of the challenged adverse employment action."

What's your experience? Do you feel older engineers have fewer opportunities?

(Editor's Note: Jack's embedded poll question for this week: "Is there age discrimination in hiring?" To vote, go to the poll location on the Embedded.com Home Page).

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.

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