A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that that job applicants cannot sue employers for disparate impact under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The Court held the disparate impact provision of the federal age discrimination law applies only to a company’s employees, not to job applicants. The decision, which effectively overturns the statutory interpretation followed by the EEOC for the past 50 years, came as a shock to many.
The majority opinion, written by Judge William Pryor, is based on a literal reading of the statute’s provision that makes it “unlawful for an employer … to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s age.” Based on a literal interpretation, the majority deemed that the plain text of the statute limits the section’s protection to discrimination against employees, not against applicants. Disagreeing with the majority’s literal reading of the statute, the dissenting opinion argued that the intent of Congress to prohibit hiring practices with a discriminatory effect is clear and the EEOC’s interpretation extending the statute’s protections to cover age-discriminatory hiring practices is in fact that correct interpretation.
It is yet to be seen if the plaintiff will file a petition for Supreme Court review.