Overqualified or Too Old - Age Discrimination in the Workplace

How many times have you, or someone you know, been turned down for a job because you are "overqualified?" Not hiring someone because they have too much experience or skill seems completely illogical. Why wouldn't an employer want someone with more than enough skill and experience to perform a job? As irrational as it sounds, it happens far too often. Now, there is a growing concern that this "excuse" for refusing to hire someone may be simply a pretext for age discrimination.

The workforce is getting older

As the baby boomer generation continues to grow within the American work force, the number of employees over the age of 55 continues to grow, as well. In fact, many predictions indicate that the over-55 group will continue to be the fastest growing age group in the work force. This increase is due, in part, to the decision to delay retirement. According to one study, nearly 70% of employees between ages of 50 and 70 report they intend to work past their expected retirement, if they retire at all.

Has "over-qualification" been addressed in the courts?

Surprisingly, the issue of over-qualification, as it relates to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), has received very little attention. In particular, very few courts have found that the term "overqualified," standing alone, is evidence of age discrimination. Indeed, most federal courts of appeals have held that an employer may reject an applicant as being overqualified, without violating the ADEA.

No particular guidance from the EEOC

Meanwhile, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has not offered specific guidance on the over-qualification issue. However, it has long warned employers that restricting their recruiting efforts for entry level jobs may likely raise an inference of age discrimination. IN other words, using terms such as "college student" and "recent college graduate" in job advertisements violates the ADEA.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals addresses the issue

One of the first courts to address the issue of denying employment based on over-qualification was the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Taggart v. Time Inc. That case involved an older plaintiff, Thomas Taggart, who was hired as a print production manager by Preview Subscription Television Inc., a subsidiary of Time Inc. Soon after being hired, Time dissolved Preview and laid off all Preview employees. However, those employees were encouraged to apply for open positions at Time. As a result, Taggart applied for more than 30 positions in various divisions at Time and its other subsidiaries.

Even with 8 interviews, he was not offered a position. Ultimately, the last interview for a position with HBO, Taggart was told he was overqualified and did not think the position would interest or challenge him. The court rejected Time's argument that being "overqualified" is tantamount to being "unqualified." More importantly, the court noted that rejecting an older applicant for being overqualified is simply a "euphemism to mask the real reason for refusal, namely, in the eyes of the employer the applicant is too old." While this decision may be promising, it is not the law of the land, at least not in Alabama, where the 11th Circuit has yet to address this specific issue.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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