Georgia Job Applicant Allowed to Pursue Disparate-Impact Age Discrimination Claim

A North Georgia man’s claim that R.J. Reynolds’ hiring practices for sales manager jobs violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act got new life as a result of a recent decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court decided that both employees and job applicants alike can pursue age discrimination claims based upon the discriminatory results created by an employer’s policies.

The case involved Richard Villarreal’s pursuit of employment with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. In November 2007, Villarreal submitted an application to Reynolds through an online job board, Careerbuilder, for a sales manager position. At that time, Villarreal was 49 years old. The employer never contacted the applicant about the job. In May 2010, he filed an ADEA violation claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The applicant later sued the employer, claiming that Reynolds’ policies were discriminatory both in intent and in result. The employer asked the trial court to throw out part of the case, and the court granted that request. The court agreed with the employer’s argument that the law only allows employees (and not employment applicants) to pursue cases of disparate impact (discriminatory results). The court also threw out most of the man’s disparate treatment (discriminatory intent) case because it was outside the limitations period created by the law. Under the statute, an employee or applicant has only 180 days from the time an act of discrimination occurs to file a complaint with the EEOC. This meant that Villarreal could not pursue a claim based on anything that happened before November 2009.

On appeal, however, the applicant obtained a more favorable result. The appeals court pointed out that, while a 2005 Supreme Court decision stated that employees are allowed to pursue discriminatory results claims under the ADEA against their employers, the court did not decide whether job applicants could bring ADEA claims based upon discriminatory results. Since neither the case law nor the statute was facially clear on this issue, the 11th Circuit looked to the EEOC for direction. The federal regulation governing discriminatory results cases, which was created by the EEOC, did not differentiate between employees and employment applicants. Based upon the EEOC’s stance of allowing both employees and job applicants to pursue actions based upon discriminatory results, the 11th Circuit decided that Villarreal’s disparate impact claim should be allowed to go forward.

The appeals court also accepted the applicant’s argument that the trial court should not have thrown out the claims based upon pre-November 2009 events. Even though the statute places a 180-day limitations period after the occurrence of discrimination for filing with the EEOC, and Villarreal’s filing took place two and a half years after his first application with Reynolds, his claims were still possibly timely. The law allows for tolling, or the “stopping of the clock,” of a limitations period “until the facts which would support a cause of action are apparent or should be apparent” to the discrimination victim. In Villarreal’s case, the applicant maintained that, since Reynolds never contacted him at all about his application, all he knew from November 2007 until April 2010 was that he applied for the job and had not yet received an offer of employment, and even a “reasonably prudent” person would not have discovered the discrimination until April 2010, one month before Villarreal filed with the EEOC.

Sometimes employment discrimination is clear and obvious, but sometimes it is not. If you think you’ve been the victim of age discrimination on the job or in the hiring process, talk to the knowledgeable Georgia age discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our attorneys have many years of experience helping people just like you in pursuing your discrimination issues.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.

More blog posts:

Employment Status and Your Federal Age Discrimination Case, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Aug. 26, 2015

Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Georgia Employee’s Race and Age Discrimination Claims, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, March 11, 2015

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