Today I overheard a conversation between a department head and a subordinate about a phone screen the subordinate had just performed. It was clear that the candidate had been rejected, for no other reason than his age. The subordinate/interviewer essentially apologized to the department head for wasting time making the call at all, since he could have estimated the candidate's age from his graduation year. The graduation year would put this person in his or her mid-40s, considerably older than the average age of the company's employees.

I was shocked, not only that this would happen, but that these guys would be so comfortable with it that they would openly discuss it in the presence of others. This is a West Coast tech startup that makes all the usual noise about inclusiveness and diversity; until today I believed they were sincere. The fact that the candidate appears to be younger than me has probably made this a bit more personal than it otherwise would have been.

I'm kind of at a loss for how to proceed. I'm meeting with the division head tomorrow (the boss both of my boss and of the department head), whom I respect and trust. At this point I don't intend to identify the people involved; I'll just tell the story anonymously and feel him out. Basically I don't want to do anything irreversible until I'm able to think about the situation rationally and have weighed my options. At this point I don't really have a solid grasp on what those options are. If anyone would care to share any experience or insights I'd certainly appreciate it.

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    While in understand your sentiment: One question - can you prove this? This is just something you overheard, not documented. – Sourav Ghosh Jul 18 '19 at 8:00
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    What is the nature and domain of the organization? What is the kind of position they were hiring for? Maybe they do have a reason for not hiring below a certain age? It would help you if you can get info about the last point. – Nimesh Neema Jul 18 '19 at 8:01
  • Was the rejection for being too old or too young? – Patricia Shanahan Jul 18 '19 at 8:43
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    Legalities aside, I'd much rather have a company discriminate against me before there's an offer on the table. Saves me the trouble of figuring out that I don't want to work there and spares me the credibility hit from taking a position that turned out not to be a good fit. – Blrfl Jul 18 '19 at 12:09
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    Sadly, this is common in tech. Luckily my Master's is recent, but once I stopped putting my BA year and years of my earlier jobs on my resume, the rate of responses to my resume shot way up. – Kathy Jul 18 '19 at 13:47

If what you overheard is accurate, yes, that's definitely age discrimination. There's no reason at all to remove someone from consideration for an OFFICE job in a tech start-up simply because of their age.

That said, there's virtually nothing you can do about it without putting your job at risk in the organization. Moreover, the hiring manager and the company can always choose or fabricate a "legal" justification for rejecting this person if confronted with any kind of inquiry from you or even the EEOC. After all, this is all based on what you over-heard and not something written as company policy.

The 50+ year-old law that provides protection against age discrimination, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) has limitations on the size of the company (20), and really doesn't provide much help other than as a basis for victims to file a lawsuit for damages if they can "prove" discrimination. As an employed witness who also happens to be older, you would only enjoy the satisfaction (and retaliation) of being a whistle-blower-- at best.

  • Whistleblowers do have legal protections too though: (Wiki) – David K Jul 18 '19 at 13:58
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    @DavidK, technically yes, and some are even vindicated, but in practice the norm is to lose one's job and then face frightening, costly, or time-consuming legal problems. You really really have to have "skin in the game" to become a whistle-blower, much more than mere moral outrage, otherwise the trouble simply isn't worth it for non-saints. – teego1967 Jul 18 '19 at 14:51
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    Glassdoor? As silly and bigoted as this is, there’s really nothing you can do about it except bringing it to the attention of the executives responsible for promoting the company’s diversity culture. Keep in mind that people hate being confronted with their hypocrisy. Be careful. – O. Jones Jul 19 '19 at 0:19

Keep in mind, if you choose to report this action to your manager or department head, you may have some rights. It is not really a whistleblower situation, however, you can be offended as a person o the same age range as the applicant facing discrimination. YOu may be able to claim age discrimination as well. If you are fired or harassed as a result, you may have a claim under retaliation and wrongful termination. It would be wise to speak with an attorney before making any decision, but know that you are not regulated to staying quiet or losing your job.

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    Except that if he chooses to report this action to management verbally, his employer will think he won't be able to prove he made the complaint in the first place, so they may start retaliatory actions against him before he formally becomes a whistleblower. – Stephan Branczyk Jan 29 '20 at 2:16

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