The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against Lilly USA, LLC (formerly Eli Lilly) for intentionally refusing to hire older people as pharmaceutical sales representatives. Doing so violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the agency alleges. The violations were nationwide and allegedly took place between April 2017 and 2021.
This is not surprising, as research indicates that age discrimination is widespread. Many companies feel pressure to appear “youthful” and “vigorous,” and they sometimes assume that having a lot of young workers on hand will help them demonstrate those qualities. In Lilly’s case, however, the tie between youth and job success was made explicit, according to the EEOC. The lawsuit alleges that in 2017, the company’s Senior Vice President For Human Resources And Diversity raised the issue in a Leadership Town Hall. He noted that Lilly’s sales workforce skewed toward older people, and he identified this as a problem to be solved. He then announced new goals for hiring – adding “early career” hiring in an effort to bring more millennials to the sales force. As a result, Lilly began to intentionally hire younger candidates for sales representative positions and to turn away older, more experienced candidates.
The ADEA and state laws prohibit discrimination against those 40 and over
It is important for employers to know that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits any form of job discrimination against people aged 40 and above. This includes discrimination in recruitment, hiring, pay and benefits, working conditions, assignments, discipline, promotions, layoffs, terminations, and other aspects of employment.
Age discrimination is also illegal under D.C., Maryland, and Virginia law, as it is in most states.
“According to a recent study by the AARP, nearly 80% of older workers say they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace,” said an EEOC spokesperson. “The EEOC is committed to protecting the rights of job applicants to ensure hiring decisions are based on abilities, not age.” In its case against Lilly, the EEOC is seeking back pay and damages for job applicants who were subjected to age discrimination, along with an injunction to prevent further age discrimination, and training on equal opportunity laws for Lilly’s managers and supervisors.
Employers can protect themselves from discrimination claims by considering a diverse pool of qualified applicants and making hiring decisions based on merit. They should strive to create inclusive, fair, and meaningful work experiences for employees of all ages. In the U.S., job vacancies have outnumbered job applicants since 2018. The U.S. workforce is aging, and for myriad reasons people are working far longer than ever before. Age discrimination is not just unlawful, it’s bad for business.