A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
concerning federal age discrimination law is drawing sharp criticism. In
Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., a Georgia man sued R.J. Reynolds and two job search companies alleging
unlawful age discrimination based on the tobacco company’s hiring
policy which gave preference to younger applicants.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against workers over the age of 40. This
includes actions such as hiring, firing, and failing to promote. Further,
in certain situations an employer may have policies or practices that
appear neutral, but in practice have a negative, “disparate,”
impact on older employees.
Here, R.J. Reynolds’ guidelines instructed hiring managers to look
for candidates with just 2 to 3 years of experience, and to avoid those
with 8 to 10 years of experience. The named plaintiff, Richard Villarreal,
applied for a position as a territory manager with the company when he
was 49 years old, but received no response. He later filed a claim for
unlawful age discrimination. While his claim being investigated, Villarreal
applied five more times and was rejected each time. Statistics set forth
in the appellate court opinion suggest that the tobacco company tended
to hire younger workers. On appeal, the
Villarreal court determined that Villarreal could not maintain his disparate impact
claim against Reynolds, holding that only
employees may sue based on the disparate impact of a policy or practice, not
Three judges dissented, with Judge Beverly Martin observing that the law
was designed to protect both those “adversely affected in their
employment as well as those deprived of employment opportunities.”
In distinguishing between older employees and older job applicants the
appellate court potentially opened the door to allow companies to discriminate
against older workers trying to find jobs.
Many observers believe that this case may be overturned.
For more information about age discrimination, or if you believe you may
have suffered any form of employment discrimination, please contact the
Georgia employment discrimination lawyers at Buckley Beal, LLP for an immediate consultation.