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Anyone who is over the age of 40 and looking for a job knows that age discrimination exists just as surely as we know that laugh lines are nothing to laugh about. But don’t take our word for it. Age discrimination is so prevalent that it is possible on any given day to find blatant, unabashed examples of it posted on Internet job search sites-even those that are tailored specifically to attorneys. If law firms and the attorney search firms they employ are not conscious of age discrimination or simply don’t care to refrain from practicing it, what hope is there for industries that hire secretaries, airline pilots or health and sales professionals? The Internet site Findlaw for Legal Professionals carried an ad from an undisclosed San Francisco law firm seeking an attorney “for general commercial litigation practice. The candidate should be a 2002 or 2003 law school graduate, but more recent classes will be considered.” The massive general employment site www.Monster.com yielded the following gem: “Prestigious law firms in Central and Northern New Jersey are looking to hire temporary recent law school graduates with 3-5 years of litigation experience.” It isn’t just corporate type firms that seek to drink from the fountain of youth. The Lawyers Coordinating Committee of the AFL-CIO carried several ads seeking recent law school graduates in the July “LCC Hiring Hall” Internet posting. See www.unionvoice.org/lcc/home.html. One ad sought “a recent law-school graduate or attorney with up to two years experience. The firm’s practice includes all aspects of labor and employment law including representing Unions, teachers, employee benefit plans, and individual employees.” Maybe someone should tell these firms that recent law school graduates and inexperienced attorneys tend also to be young people. Ads like theirs essentially tell older workers they need not apply. Remember when newspapers advertised positions under “Male Wanted” and “Female Wanted”? Is this really so different? It is common for nonprofit groups to offer paid employment to recent law grads in the form of “fellowships.” These jobs often pay substantial salaries but are of limited duration-a year or two. Many ads seeking “fellows” on a public service job site hosted by the University of Michigan specified that candidates must be recent graduates. The New York Civil Liberties Union, which describes itself as “one of the nation’s foremost defenders of civil liberties and civil rights,” sought applicants for fellowships who are “entering their final year of law school or must be a recent law graduate currently clerking or beginning a clerkship in the fall.” Similarly, a Children’s Law Center of Washington ad stated: “Ideal candidates will be law students entering their third year or recent graduates who expect to complete a clerkship in the summer of 2007.” One wonders what happens at the conclusion of these fellowships, when the employer wants to hire a real, full-time employee. A “fellow” just might have an advantage over a nonrecent law school graduate who was denied actual job experience. Bias toward younger workers Is it OK for employers to tailor job advertisements to younger workers when age is completely irrelevant to the actual performance of the job? There are numerous prohibitions against employment discrimination based upon age, including the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the intent of which was to protect individuals who are over the age of 40. The ADEA generally makes it unlawful to include age preferences, limitations or specifications in job notices or advertisements. A job notice or advertisement may specify an age limit only in the rare circumstances when age is shown to be a “bona fide occupational qualification” reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business. AARP states on its Web site that it is unlawful under the ADEA to state age preferences in job advertisements: “For example: it is unlawful to advertise for ‘young college graduates’ or ‘attorneys age 25-30 for six-figure salary.’ Other ads seeking a ‘recent college graduate’ or ‘youth-oriented’ applicants may send the same message as the more blatantly age-based ads.” See www.aarp.org/money/careers/employerresourcecenter/law/a2004-07-22-adea.html. But a law is only as good as its enforcement, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is not exactly exhibiting youthful enthusiasm in its mission to ferret out the scourge of age discrimination. The EEOC resolved 14,076 age discrimination charges in fiscal year 2005, which is the lowest number in a decade and compares to almost 20,000 in 1992. The EEOC found “no reasonable cause” that age discrimination occurred in 63% of the cases and “reasonable cause” that discrimination existed in only 4.1% or 583 cases. See www.eeoc.gov/stats/adea.html. In addition to the ADEA, many states have adopted laws explicitly prohibiting age discrimination. The U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions also offer protection against age discrimination. The 14th Amendment, for example, explicitly prohibits states from violating an individual’s rights of due process and equal protection. As someone who has celebrated her 50th birthday and is currently looking for a job, I find the widespread practice of age discrimination to be not only profoundly depressing but also dispiriting, exasperating and downright maddening. Mature job seekers have everything that recent law school graduates have plus life experience that should, if anything, better qualify us for a position. Everything but one thing, that is. A fair chance to compete for the job. Patricia G. Barnes is an attorney and the author of reference works and articles on the law.

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