EEOC Tackles Ageism in Academia

NOTE: Marymount Manhattan College subsequently entered a consent decree with the EEOC settling the law suit discussed below. Marymount agreed to pay $125,000 to Patricia Catterson and  to comply with the requirements of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  The decree also requires monitoring and training on anti-discrimination law. The decree will last for four years.  

It appears that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finally may be cracking down on what some say is blatant, rampant and unchecked age discrimination in academia.

The EEOC has filed an age discrimination lawsuit against an elite private liberal arts college, Marymount Manhattan College of New York City, because it allegedly refused to hire a choreography instructor for a tenure track assistant professorship because of her age.

Marymount initially selected a 64-year-old choreography instructor and two other applicants as finalists for an assistant professorship in dance composition.  After determining that the 64-year-old was the leading candidate, the EEOC said, Marymount’s search committee expanded its search to include a less qualified, 37-year-old applicant as a fourth finalist because it considered her to be “at the right moment of her life for commitment to a full-time position.”  Marymount hired the 37-year-old applicant.

Last year, Nicholas Spaeth, 62, the former state attorney general for North Dakota, filed several groundbreaking lawsuits against law schools, including the Michigan State University College of Law in East Lansing, Michigan, for  allegedly violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Spaeth, a magna cum laude graduate of Stanford Law School, says he couldn’t even get an interview for several advertised teaching position at the law school.

Spaeth has served as general counsel at three publicly held companies with billions in assets, argued a groundbreaking tax case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and was a partner at three law firms. He also taught for four years at the University of Missouri School of Law, three years as an adjunct and one year as a visiting professor.

He applied to Michigan law school, which ended up hiring three attorneys for the 2011-2012 school year who graduated in 2006, 2005 and 2001, respectively. One of the new hires had no experience as a legal practitioner. The applicant who was hired by Michigan to teach in Spaeth’s area of specialty, corporate taxation, had three years of practical experience as an associate in a law firm.  Spaeth, who served two four-year terms as North Dakota’s Attorney General, is a former general counsel of H & R Block.

Spaeth earlier filed complaints with the EEOC against more than 100 law schools that also did not offer him an interview.  The EEOC dismissed most, if not all, if Spaeth’s complaints.

One of Spaeth’s age discrimination lawsuits in March passed a critical stage in the legal process. A federal judge denied a motion by Georgetown University’s law school to dismiss Spaeth’s claims that the law school violated federal and District of Columbia laws when it failed to offer tenure-track teaching job. “It… remains plausible that Georgetown could be liable for age discrimination,”   wrote U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in her opinion in Spaeth v. Georgetown University, United States District Court, District of Columbia, No. 11-1376..

The EEOC’s Marymount suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Civil Action No. 12-cv-2388 (JPO) after the EEOC unsuccessfully sought to settle the matter.

“Our suit charges that age was the deciding factor in this case,” said EEOC trial attorney Justin Mulaire.  “Under the law, age has no place in hiring decisions — and tenure-track positions in academia are no exception.”

The Age discrimination against employees and job applicants who are age 40 or older is a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Elizabeth Grossman, the regional attorney of the EEOC’s New York District Office, said, “Older workers have the right to be evaluated based on their abilities and not based on their age.  The EEOC is committed to combating bias against older workers in all phases of employment and in all types of employment settings.”

0 thoughts on “EEOC Tackles Ageism in Academia”

  1. I returned 3 years ago to the district which trained me as a teacher but I cannot obtain an interview after 3 years of teaching experience in another state. I have recomandmendation letters from this district. The district is only hiring young women in their 20s with little to no experience except student teaching. I am 48 and will be reinventing myself to help support my family. I am also seeing very few young men being hired into elementary positions not am I seeing persons of color hired in these suburban districts. Why must a teacher be white and young to get an interview and employed. This is very disconcerting. I would like to know what Gov. Snyder is doing about this problem.

  2. I have just discovered that I am being discriminated against as a PhD applicant because of my age. Everyone I talk to, bar none, have told my my application is strong and I should get interviews and offers but I have yet to receive a single invitation to interview. I can’t blow the whistle, so to speak or I will throw my source under the bus.
    For several reasons, I do not wish to bring suit against the parties involved but I also don’t wish to abandon my dreams, either. I earned my BS in 2009 and my MS in 2012 so I could fairly easily look young on paper. I found this article while searching for information and ideas.

      1. The other side of the equation is fairly uncommon at the present time but as our life expectancy increases, going in an entirely different direction midway through adulthood will become more and more common.
        I also suspect this is also a woman’s issue because most childcare continues to fall upon the mother.

  3. At the risk of being blackballed for stating such an opinion — a fear that is quite palpable for those of us in the job search — age discrimination in academia is both rampant and disgraceful, besides being illegal. I think my own experience provides a good test case for any class-action suit against a number of institutions I’ve applied to over the years. One can’t judge one’s own qualifications fairly, but facts are facts. Any advice here would be helpful.

    If I can name names, not only does the University of Memphis blatantly ask for the applicant’s age in one of its “optional” demographic sections in its online application form (I’ve never met an academic who failed to fill out this “optional” section, for obvious reasons) — thus saving the search committee the annoying task of trying to figure it out — it also requires applicants to disclose their credit history.

    1. It’s no consolation, I’m sure, but this is a common story. You couldn’t have better qualifications than former North Dakota Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth but he lost at every turn. I just wrote a book about the fact that older workers are second class citizens in our nation’s court system. It’s called, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace. Congress needs to act.

  4. Someone I know is Spaeth’s age and is in the academic job market. Though he is well-qualified, he’s been unable so far to get a job, partly he thinks because of age discrimination. He asked me not to use his name, because he fears retaliation, and is resigned to the impossibility of doing anything about the discrimination. What a wonderful example of freedom of thought and toleration academia has become!

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