Employees who believe that they’ve been victims of age discrimination received a huge benefit from a late 2015 decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, involving a North Georgia worker who sued his prospective employer for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The judges who heard the man’s appeal issued a groundbreaking ruling, stating, for the first time in the 11th Circuit, that employment candidates alleging age discrimination can use disparate impact to prove that an employer discriminated against them. That new tool is again being called into question, however, since the 11th Circuit has agreed to review the case again, this time by all of the judges of the Circuit.
In most federal appeals, the case is heard on appeal by a “panel” of three appellate judges. For the losing side, the law allows an option to request that the case be reheard, and decided, by all of the judges for that appeals court. This is called a rehearing en banc. That’s what R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. sought and obtained in a recent age discrimination case in the 11th Circuit.
In the case, Richard Villarreal had applied for a sales manager job with the tobacco giant. The 49-year-old applicant from Cumming, Georgia never received any communication back from his prospective employer. Villarreal sued, alleging that Reynolds violated the ADEA. Villarreal lost his case at the trial court level after a Gainesville-based federal judge granted the employer’s request to dismiss the case.
The employment candidate appealed, arguing, among other things, that the law allows him to prove his case of age discrimination by showing that Reynolds’ hiring procedures had a disproportionately harmful impact on older candidates. The ADEA is clear that employees may use disparate impact to prove their age discrimination cases, but it is less clear when the alleged victims are employment candidates.
Two of the three judges who decided Villarreal’s appeal decided to follow the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s interpretation of the law, which concluded that using disparate impact as proof was an available option to both employees and employment candidates. The decision, had it stood, would have been of substantial significance and helpfulness for employment candidates throughout Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, giving them an alternate avenue for meeting the law’s requirements for proving that the employer engaged in age discrimination.
The third judge dissented vehemently, contending that the ADEA is clear that proof by disparate impact is available only to employees and not to employment candidates, and he stated that every other court addressing this issue had ruled that the ADEA disallowed employment candidates’ use of disparate impact. The dissenting judge’s opinion was the centerpiece of Reynolds’ successful request for a rehearing of the case by the entire 11th Circuit. With the case now pending (again) before the entire court, the opinion issued by the 11th Circuit panel last November has been thrown out.
The law of federal age discrimination is one that, as the Villarreal case shows, is potentially still evolving. If you’re an employment candidate in Georgia who believes that your prospective employer discriminated against you because of your age, you should talk to a knowledgeable employment attorney right away. Contact the Georgia age discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our team has extensive experience dealing with federal age discrimination laws and represents both employees and employers. Put our skills and ability to work for you.
To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call (877) 986-5529.
More blog posts:
New 11th Circuit Decision Changes the Way Some Discrimination Cases Will Be Decided in Georgia, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, March 10, 2016
Georgia Job Applicant Allowed to Pursue Disparate-Impact Age Discrimination Claim, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Dec. 28, 2015