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Large employee search firm illegally screened job candidates based on age

26 March 2001 - The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission substantiated a charge filed by AARP that Spencer Stuart, a large employee search firm, illegally screened job candidates on the basis of age. Spencer Stuart was accused by AARP in October, 1998 with routinely violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) through the practice of limiting search for suitable job candidates on the basis of the age-based preferences of its clients and disclosing age information to clients during candidates presentations.

EEOC New York District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. issued a "Determination" (final decision) memorandum to AARP and Spencer Stuart on March 15, stating that the search firm has "regularly continued to provide the ages of candidates either verbally or in writing to select clients" - a practice illegal under the ADEA."

"Age discrimination in hiring is one of the most critical problems facing older workers," said Laurie McCann, a senior attorney with AARP Foundation Litigation. "It is essential that gatekeepers to employment, including employment agencies and search firms such as Spencer Stuart, accept, refer and place candidates in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner," McCann said.

The EEOC's final decision triggers - under the ADEA - a period of informal conciliation during which the commission, Spencer Stuart and AARP will seek to reach a settlement on the charges. Failure to reach such a settlement could lead to court action by EEOC and /or AARP.

The ADEA, enacted in 1967, is the primary federal law prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of age for persons 40 and older. Over 45% of the AARP membership is employed - and most of these people are protected by the ADEA.

AARP's charge emanated from allegations filed with the EEOC by two former employees of Spencer Stuart that the company engaged in systemic violations of civil rights laws, including prohibitions against age discrimination.

AARP's charge stated that the company's discriminatory practices in its US offices took a number of forms:

- entering age information into a computer database
- including the age in candidate presentation packages to the client, or
- orally relaying such information to clients.

In its Determination memo last week, EEOC said that AARP's claim was supported by a January,1995 widely-circulated memorandum in which Spencer Stuart's then chief financial officer wrote:

"Over the past six months, we have had numerous questions raised as to the exposure created by referencing age (birth date) and marital status in candidate reports. We have concluded, after having sought advice from outside counsel, that we are principally creating a legal exposure for our clients by including this information in reports that end up in their personnel files. Therefore, in order to protect our clients (and, to a lesser degree, ourselves) we should not include age (birth date) in candidate reports. The best approach (for our clients) is to provide this information verbally so that their permanent records do not contain this information...If the client wants this information provided in the cover, we should comply with their wishes...Please keep in mind that asking for age or marital/parental status does create a legal exposure. Be very careful about how you obtain this information..."

The Determination stated: "Based on our investigation, EEOC has determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Respondent has violated the ADEA in that it provides ages of candidates to prospective employers for a discriminatory purpose...This determination is final."

The EEOC statement said that, even after that memo was circulated, Spencer Stuart regularly forwarded the ages of candidates - either verbally or in writing - to select clients.

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