Starbucks’ De-Caffeinated Response to Age Discrim.

A spokesperson for Starbucks made a mystifying distinction Wednesday in an apparent effort to justify what appears to be blatant age discrimination in hiring under the recently announced 100,000 Opportunity Initiative.

Starbucks is spearheading an effort by more than a dozen major American corporations to hire 100,000 16- to 24- year olds by 2018.  Other partners include Walmart and Microsoft,

In an email, a spokesperson for Starbucks made a distinction between a collective hiring initiative and individual hiring decisions. “Age is not a factor in individual hiring decisions, and our 100,000 jobs for Opportunity Youth is incremental to our already ambitious hiring goals across the nation,” writes Jarryd (no last name provided)  of Starbucks Media Team.

Yeah but the Age Discrimination in Employment Act  (ADEA) makes no distinction between hiring 100,000 workers or hiring individual workers. The ADEA unambiguously states that it is unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire” any individual “because of such individual’s age.” Would any of these corporations defend a plan to hire 100,000 Christians on the grounds that it was also willing to hire a Muslim or Jew?

The corporations are couching the initiative as a well-intentioned effort to help young people who face systemic barriers to jobs and education. That’s irrelevant too. The ADEA prohibits age discrimination (with a few exceptions that are not applicable here). Does anyone doubt that good intentions were used to justify discriminatory laws throughout history that oppressed women and minorities?  Besides, older workers also face systemic barriers to jobs and education. As a result of age discrimination, a disproportionate number of women and minorities are dumped into an unwanted “early retirement” and decades of poverty or near poverty.

Starbucks also attempted to characterize the future hires as “youth.”   Jarryd said the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative “has the collective goal of engaging at least 100,000 Opportunity Youth.”  However, the dictionary defines youth as “adolescence”; the term is not applicable to young workers who are over the age of 18.

It is a laudable goal to help unemployed youth and young adults find jobs but age discrimination is inherently harmful to the fabric of American society. And did I forget to mention – it’s illegal!

Jarryd did not directly respond to my specific question – “What legal justification exists for engaging in age discrimination in hiring under the initiative?”

Meanwhile, queries to the media office of the U.S. Department of Labor  have been ignored.  Starbucks sent out a press release in which it quoted U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez as calling the initiative it a “win-win.” He also expressed hope that other employers would join in. In an open letter to Perez, I noted that by enacting the ADEA the U.S. Congress announced its clear preference for public policy initiative over discriminatory hiring. Did I mention that it is  illegal to discriminate on the basis of age?

The problem of age discrimination is so prevalent in American society that it is invisible.

If it’s not bad enough that the U.S. Secy. of Labor endorsed the initiative, not one media outlet even questioned the discriminatory nature of the program.

Meanwhile, groups that one might hope would express displeasure about this celebration of corporate age discrimination have been  silent,  including so-called advocacy groups like the AARP (the leading purveyor of Medigap insurance in the United States) and unions. Can it be that these groups are not knowledgeable about  the ADEA?   Is it  just that they don’t care?  I would argue that we all should care about age discrimination in employment because it  exacts a terrible toll on its victims and society picks up the tab in lost productivity and higher health and social welfare costs.  Moreover, epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination undermines the basic principle upon which America was founded – equal justice.