A job candidate looks great on paper. That doesn’t mean you have to take them — but you better be ready to have a good explanation if they claim illegal bias.
A 66-year-old former justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court applied for a job as a county public defender.
The county hired a 27-year-old applicant instead.
He applied two more times, but both times the county hired applicants under the age of 40.
Each time he was denied, the former justice filed an EEOC charge of age discrimination, adding retaliation claims to the second and third charges.
He later sued the county for illegal age discrimination under the ADEA. As a former judge, he said he was more qualified than those who were hired.
The county said it did not hire him because he applied only to become eligible for retirement benefits.
It also said that he was too busy with his private practice and that he was hard to work with.
The county filed a motion for summary judgment.
The court granted the motion, and the applicant appealed.
The applicant relied on circumstantial evidence to support his claim, the court noted.
That meant he had to establish a preliminary case by showing he was 40 or older; that he was qualified for the job; that he suffered an adverse job action; and that someone younger got the job.
Burden Is Met
He met this burden, the court said.
At that point, the burden shifted to the employer to offer a legitimate reason for the rejection.
The employer did so, the court said, when it explained that it did not choose the applicant because it believed he wanted the job just to get retirement benefits; because he had been dilatory in previous dealings with the court; because he had a busy private practice; and because he had shown he was hard to get along with in the past.
That meant the burden shifted back to the applicant to show there was a genuine issue of fact present as to whether those proffered reasons were real or rather just pretextual.
And that’s where the applicant’s case stalled, the court said.
Neither a disparity in the qualifications of the applicant and the selected applicant nor the employer’s decision not to interview the applicant showed pretext, the court said.
Experience Isn’t Everything
He admittedly had greater experience, but that didn’t mean he was undoubtedly the better person for the job, the court said.
The employer highly valued the ability of the person in the job to get along with others, and it believed this was an area where the applicant was lacking.
There wasn’t enough evidence to show that the employer’s given reasons were untrue, the court said.
It ruled for the employer.
Easley v. Lowndes County, Mississippi, No. 21-60136, 2022 WL 39001 (5th Cir. 1/4/22).