More workers can sue for age discrimination

More employees have a right to sue for age discrimination, as a result of two recent court decisions.

In one case, salesman Robert Liebman was fired at age 49 after working for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for 27 years. He sued under the federal age discrimination law, which prohibits discrimination against workers over 40.

MetLife argued that Liebman’s firing couldn’t possibly be age discrimination because it replaced him with someone who was 42 years old, and thus was also protected by the law.

But a federal appeals court in Atlanta said it didn’t matter that Liebman’s replacement was also over 40. As long as his replacement was “substantially younger,” Liebman could sue, and have a jury decide if he was discriminated against.

A 49-year-old who was fired could file a claim for age bias … even though his replacement was also over 40.

In the second case, a medical device company in Illinois posted an ad for a job in its legal department, saying that it would only consider candidates who had no more than seven years of experience.

It got a resume from 59-year-old Dale Kleber, who had previously served as general counsel of a Fortune 500 company, CEO of a national trade organization, and interim CEO of a different medical device business. The company didn’t even give Kleber an interview, and hired a 29-year-old instead.

Kleber sued for age discrimination, arguing that the company’s cap on candidates’ experience was an illegal attempt to weed out older workers.

And a federal judge allowed the case to go forward. The judge said it wasn’t age discrimination to refuse to interview an applicant who was overqualified, but a jury should be able to decide whether the company’s cap on years of experience was simply an attempt to avoid older candidates in general.