“Is asking what year you graduated from college a kind of age discrimination?”

Question: Alan, it seems many companies who ask for employment applications online make it a required field to fill out the year you graduated from college . . . it seems to be little more than a way to get around asking you your age, which is illegal. They just ask when you graduated, and then apparently just “do the math.” I feel in many cases I have been discriminated against in this manner. Have your clients reported this, and if so, what do they do?

Palm Harbor, Florida

Answer: Your question is a very interesting one.

Discrimination in hiring on the basis of age is a violation of Federal law, as well as the law of all states. You are entirely correct that certain questions, by their very nature, tend to reveal age, such as the year of college graduation. The fact that those questions are asked in an online job application, and especially that the year of college graduation is a required field, strongly suggest a discriminatory motive.

In New York State, where I practice law, many questions are considered “prohibited” by the Rulings of our State Division of Human Rights, the state agency that enforces the laws against age discrimination. I strongly suggest you contact the Florida Commission on Human Relations [www.fchr.state.fl.us] to do two things: (a) determine if Florida sees “year of college graduation” to be proof of age discrimination, as New York does, and (b) to get all relevant information on how to file a claim of age discrimination in hiring with that agency. Incidentally, the website www.workplacefairness.com has a good summary of law and procedure for filing a claim of age discrimination in hiring in Florida. (It is rather easy to do so without a lawyer.)

I usually suggest to my clients that they consider taking a different path, although this “different path” does not mean you can’t take the path of filing a State claim of age discrimination, at the same time. You might consider a Certified Mail letter to the company’s CEO telling him or her that you have proof of age discrimination in hiring, and that you have not been hired as a result. You might ask him or her for a meeting to show your great skills, experience, perseverance, and value, even if you did graduate college a long, long time ago. Several of my clients have been successful in getting hired this way. When someone is caught with their “hand in the cookie jar,” they are more likely to offer to “return the cookies” already in their pockets. And, if you’re not hired, you can always pursue your age discrimination claim . . . and now, you have even more proof: the CEO’s own behavior. (I hope you see how this process can even be enjoyable.)

No matter what you do, you have to stand up for yourself. I share your view that the question asked about year of college graduation is, by its very nature, proof of age discrimination. Likewise, I hope you share my view that you will do better for yourself – and our entire society – if you stand up for yourself in these matters, and in doing just that you will be standing up for all of us at the same time. I would consider it a great personal favor if you would now “get up” and “go get ’em.”

I really, really hope this helps.

Al Sklover

To obtain a Model Complaint of Age Discrimination to HR or Management, for your adaptation to your facts and situation, just [click here.]

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.