The Ugly Truth About Age Discrimination

“So then the headhunter said something that took my breath away,” said my caller, Philip.

“He told me that his client looked at my resume and said it looked great, but then he found my LinkedIn profile and decided I’m a little long in the tooth for the job.”

I was silent. That took my breath away, too.

“Long in the tooth?” I asked. “As in old?”

“Exactly,” said Philip. “The headhunter actually told me that the client said I was too old for the job. I asked him if that was illegal – I’m pretty sure it is – and he said that the client’s view is that if they don’t interview me, I’m not a candidate, so it’s not discrimination.”

“That’s false,” I said, but even as I said it, I knew that it doesn’t make any difference.

What is Philip going to do – sue the employer he never met because a third-party recruiter told him that one hiring manager made an inappropriate comment? So-called Failure to Hire cases are notoriously hard to bring and even harder to prove. As long as the organization ends up hiring someone who is qualified for the job, how could Phil ever prove that he was rejected because of his age? It’s not as though the organization is going to publish the new hire’s age for all the other candidates to see.

Age discrimination is everywhere. I hear more examples of age discrimination than I hear about sex discrimination, racial discrimination and every other kind put together. I expect that’s because some employers believe that older workers aren’t as nimble or perhaps aren’t as easy to train. Some of them undoubtedly worry that an older person is necessarily overqualified, and thus likely to bolt the minute a better job comes along.

That’s ridiculous, of course. Younger people are just as likely to bail for a better opportunity as older ones are. Many mature employees are more interested in the challenge and the environment than they are in a rocket-to-the-stars career path. But age discrimination persists. It’s the only kind of employment discrimination I know of that people talk about openly, either because they’re unaware of the laws preventing it (in the U.S., you’re supposed to be protected from age discrimination once you’re 40 years old, which doesn’t do a thing for young people who are told “you’re too young for this job”) or  because they don’t care.

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The Ugly Truth About Age Discrimination