While a few stray comments from a manager might not amount to age discrimination in a court’s eyes, it can still land an employer in hot water.
Here’s a recent case where a job applicant sued for just this reason.
Joel Reinebold was 56 years old when he applied to be the head coach of the baseball team for Indiana University South Bend (IUSB). He was one of 94 candidates total, and one of 11 who’d been selected for an interview.
IUSB’s hiring committee was comprised of eight people. While interviewing the candidates, they were looking for someone who’d be a good fit for a variety of duties, including overseeing recruiting efforts, enhancing players’ academic performance and organizing team practices.
Reinebold was interviewed, and it didn’t go well. A few members of the hiring committee said they were unimpressed by him, as he was unable to answer a lot of questions. One member went so far as to say Reinebold’s interview was “one of the worst he’d ever experienced.”
When Reinebold learned he didn’t get the job and IUSB hired a 31-year-old instead, he sued for age discrimination.
Looking for retirement job?
During the trial, a few stray comments from the hiring committee came to light, which Reinebold tried to use to strengthen his age discrimination claim.
After making the offer to the 31-year-old candidate, one member of the hiring committee commented that a younger guy would be a “better fit for the kids.”
After interviewing Reinebold, another member of the committee made a note that he was probably “looking for a retirement job.” Reinebold pointed to this as proof the committee was biased against him due to his age.
But a court ultimately ruled in favor of IUSB. It said the comment about the “younger guy” was likely just a casual identifier. Furthermore, there were many other valid reasons the committee chose not to hire Reinebold. His interview hadn’t gone well, and he was unable to produce satisfactory responses to some of the committee’s questions — all of which was documented.
This case shows that solid documentation on why a candidate isn’t a good fit is crucial in fighting lawsuits such as this one. However, it’s also important to remember that even the smallest comments can land an employer in court, so it’s best to be careful and remind your managers to watch what they say.