Disparate Impact Provision Of The Equal Employment Opportunity Act Does Not Apply To Job Applicants

The US Appeals Court recently rejected an appeal on a case involving age discrimination in the workplace. A 49-year-old man filed a discrimination lawsuit claiming that the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company denied him employment because he was ineligible due to age. The company’s policy preferred hiring young applicants fresh out of college. The court ruled that the disparate impact provision of the Age Discrimination Law did not apply to this case. Disparate Impact cases have a negative impact on a protected group.

Disparate impact employment practices aren’t intentionally discriminatory. The Court denied the appeal based on several factors including:

  • Disparate Impact discrimination applies only to current employees of a company, not job applicants.
  • The appellant was a job applicant passed over because he was not a member of the preferred demographic’s age group.
  • The Court adhered to the literal reading of the provision and bypassed established precedents.

The Controversy

The ruling is controversial because the decision strikes down a 50-year-old definitive application of the Disparate Impact provision. This provision makes it unlawful for a company to discriminate by classifying, segregating or limiting in such a way as to deprive an individual of employment opportunities or to adversely affect his status as an employee. Since the provision does not expressly mention job applicants, the Court rejected the claim interpreting the meaning as applying to current employees only. Conversely, The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has traditionally applied the provision to job applicants as well, despite the provision not mentioning them.

The Appellant’s Case

In the case of the appellant, Richard Villareal, he was adversely affected by the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company’s discriminatory hiring practices that identified its target hiring demographic as people just two and three years out of college. The company instructed recruiters to reject applicants who had 8 or more years of sales experience. The younger applicants, according to RJ Reynolds, were people who “adjusted to changes.” Although these hiring guidelines did not specifically say “no older applicants,” by defining the desired candidate as someone out of college for 2 or 3 years, the company only hired young applicants.

The Ruling

The Court made its ruling based solely on the phrase “or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee.”1 It read the meaning of the provision to apply only to current employees and not those seeking employment with a company. Thus, by using the ambiguity of the wording in the provision, the Court struck down the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s August reading of the law. The case landed in the 11th District Court of Appeals after Villareal’s initial complaint was dismissed because he applied outside the state of Georgia’s 180-day statute of limitations. The Court ruled that the Disparate Impact provision of the Age Discriminatory Act applies to only current employees. It also ruled that Villareal’s late filing excluded him from an “extraordinary remedy”2 that would bypass the statute of limitations.

Although Villareal explained that he didn’t know about the factors that made his case valid until 2010, which unfortunately was a time beyond Georgia’s 180-day statute of limitations. His claim was rejected. The rejection was in part due to Mr. Villareal not clarifying which factors he learned about in 2010 that led to his filing the case.

 Feldman, Noah. “Subtle Age Discrimination Gets A Court’s Blessing.” Bloomberg.com, 10-9-2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-10-09/subtle-age-discrimination-gets-a-court-s-blessing

2 Carver, Richard. “Federal Appeals Court Hands Reynolds Victory in Age-Discrimination Lawsuit.” Winston-Salem Journal, 10-15-2016, http://www.journalnow.com/business/business_news/local/federal-appeals-court-hands-reynolds-victory-in-age-discrimination-lawsuit/article_93851273-e41a-5eb2-b6fd-ea33ad613d34.html

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Benjamin G. Kelsen Esq. provides efficient legal representation for Criminal Defense & DWI Defense Cases in Hackensack, Garfield & Teaneck.

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