HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Office of Public Records violated federal law when it refused to hire an attorney for a vacant appeals officer position because of his age, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to EEOC’s lawsuit, Joseph Bednarik, who was over 40 years old, had graduated from law school with honors and had about 30 years of legal experience, including around 17 years with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, when he applied for an appeals officer position with the Office of Public Records. Appeals officers review citizen challenges to refusals by state government agencies to provide government records under Pennsylvania’s “open records” statute. EEOC charges that during Bednarik’s second interview for the position, the executive director of the Office of Public Records expressed concerns that Bednarik would not have a long tenure with the agency since he had already worked for the commonwealth for 17 years and might be nearing retirement. Despite Bednarik’s qualifications and positive reference, the Office of Public Affairs selected a significantly less experienced applicant, who was 15 years younger, because of Bednarik’s age, EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals 40 or older on the basis of age. EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Office of Open Records, Civil Action No. 1-15-cv-01895-CCC) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“Too often, older applicants and workers experience discrimination based on negative stereotypes and erroneous age-biased assumptions,” said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. “EEOC will hold employers accountable when they make hiring decisions based on age rather than ability.”
EEOC Philadelphia District Office Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, “Refusing to hire a qualified candidate based on speculation about his possible future retirement plans is illegal age discrimination, plain and simple.”
EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases arising from Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.