Feds Are Engaged in Age Discrimination in Hiring on Unprecedented Scale

About 93% of applicants hired for 92,193 federal jobs under the U.S. government’s Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program  from May 2012 to July 2017  were under the age of 40.

Only  7.16% of applicants hired under the program were over the age of 40, according to statistics released by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) pursuant to a Freedom of Information request.

The data shows the federal government is engaged in a practice of age discrimination in hiring that dwarfs anything in the private sector and is unprecedented since the enactment fifty years ago of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967.

The OPM released the data on Nov. 28 pursuant to a FOI request filed by a job seeker who was rejected for a federal job because he was not a recent college graduate. Given that publicity about workers who demand their legal rights often makes them a pariah to potential employers, the job seeker’s identity is not disclosed here.

The federal government is engaged in a pattern of age discrimination in hiring that is unprecedented in modern history.

Barack H. Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, created the Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program through an  executive order in 2010. Obama’s executive order operates as an exemption to the ADEA for federal agencies. The OPM issued regulations and the program began operating in May 2012.

The ADEA prohibits the consideration of age in hiring except in limited circumstances such as when it involves a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the par­ticu­lar business or where the differentiation is based on reasonable factors other than age (i.e,  cost). These were not considerations with respect to the Pathways program.

The OPM at the time disingenuously implied the hiring program did not involve age discrimination because anyone of any age can be a recent graduate.  Of course, the vast majority of recent graduates are and always have been under the age of 40.

The Pathways program  is form of age discrimination under the “disparate impact” theory, which is invoked when a seemingly neutral policy results in a disproportionate negative impact on a protected class.

The U.S. Congress passed the ADEA 50 years ago to protect individuals aged 40 and older from irrational and harmful employment discrimination.  In signing the order, then President Lyndon B. Johnson said the ADEA’s purpose was to insure the most qualified applicant got the job.

Obama signed the order in the wake of Wall Street’s collapse and the Great Recession, when older workers were disproportionately mired in long-term unemployment.

A spokesperson for the OPM said in July that the program doesn’t discriminate because it is legal and the program will continue until Obama’s executive order is rescinded by the sitting President.

Unique Perspective of  Young People

Without offering any supporting data, Obama said the order was needed to remove “barriers” in hiring younger workers caused by civil service regulations and “to achieve a workforce that represents all segments of society.” Obama also said he wanted  to “infuse” the federal government with the “enthusiasm, talents and unique perspective” of young people.

In an Oct. 4, 2011 letter to the OPM, Angela Bailey, a spokesperson for the National Treasury Employees Union, said there can be “no doubt” the Pathways program targeted younger applicants ” by design.” Furthermore, she said, the program was “intended to, and will, discriminate against older applicants” in violation of the ADEA and merit selection principles. She denied the government faced barriers to hiring young people and questioned the government’s competency with respect to recruitment. She said the absence of a cap on hiring under the program was the “single most disappointing aspect” of the program.

The OPM’s Merit System and Accountability Office released incomplete age data from Pathways program last summer that only covered hiring between May 2012 through June 2014. The OPM claimed, falsely, that it lacked more recent figures.  The persistent FOIA applicant filed an appeal and requested  the later statistics.

OPM General Counsel Theodore M. Cooperstein writes that his office “determined that OPM does have additional responsive data regarding Pathways Programs appointees” after 2014.

The federal government is the nation’s largest employer.

Under President Obama’s directive, “A Recent Graduate is an individual who obtained a qualifying associates, bachelors, master’s, professional, doctorate, vocational or technical degree or certificate from a qualifying educational institution,within the previous 2 years …”  5 CFR 362.302(a),

Older Workers Barred from Applying for Tens of Thousands of Federal Jobs

Tens of thousands of U.S. jobs have been reserved for  younger workers since 2012 under the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s on-going Pathways Program, which permits federal agencies to limit hiring to recent college graduates.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the OPM disclosed on June 13 that a total of 29,595 candidates were selected for employment under the Pathways Program from May 2012  to  Fiscal Year 2014.   Of the total, 27,423 were under the age of 40 and 2,172 were over the age of 40. The OPM claims its data only covers that period but clearly the loss of opportunity to work for the federal government continues for older workers.  It is fair to assume that older workers have been barred from applying for at least 60,000 federal jobs.

Of the total, 92.7 % of the Pathways Program hires were UNDER the age of 40; only 7.3 % were OVER the age of 40.

The Pathways Program permits federal agencies to limit hiring to applicants who apply within two years of earning a post-high school or college degree. Specifically, the program is “open to applicants who have completed a qualifying post-high school educational program (e.g., technical or vocational school; two-or-four year college or university; graduate or professional school) within the preceding two years.”  Veterans have six years to apply.

The OPM disingenuously took the position that any individual who meets the qualification can apply regardless of age. However, as the OPM’s letter shows, the vast majority of recent college graduates are under the age of 40. The program represents a form of age discrimination in violation of the  Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 called disparate impact discrimination. The hiring policy is a seemingly neutral policy that has a egregious disproportionate and adverse affect on older workers.

Former President Barack H. Obama  sought to create an exception to the ADEA when he created the Pathways Program by signing Executive Order 13562 into law on December 27, 2010. Without citing any research or other supporting documentation, Obama claimed the federal government was at a disadvantage in hiring young people due to the competitive hiring process. The Pathways Program took effect on January 6, 2012, sixty days after the OPM issued regulations to implement the program.

Unfortunately, neither the EEOC nor the AARP, which claims to represent older Americans, acknowledged the  discriminatory impact of the Executive Order  at the time or took any subsequent steps to oppose it. This blog raised the issue of age discrimination in the Pathways Program several years ago but business continues as usual.

As a result of the Pathways Program, older workers, still suffering from the ravages of the Great Recession, were barred from participating in the recovery.  The federal government is the nation’s largest employer.

Three years ago,  when I first wrote about the Pathways Program, I observed with some incredulity that my blog might be the only source in the nation that has acknowledge the devastating impact of the Pathways Program on older workers.  I noted the Pathways Program not only discriminates against older workers but it sends a message to the private sector that age discrimination in hiring is acceptable and it likely discouraged enforcement of the ADEA by the EEOC.

The FOI request was filed by a job seeker who has filed an age discrimination complaint with the EEOC alleging age discrimination in hiring by the federal government.