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Be Careful When You Use the Word Overqualified

November 24, 1998
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Related Topics: Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Featured Article
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Employers should be cautious when evaluating job applicants who are "overqualified," because courts might view that characterization as a pretext for age discrimination. That is what happened in Hamm v. Hevesi, where an applicant was turned down for a position and sued in a federal court in New York alleging age discrimination. The court refused to dismiss the case.

The employer asserted that the applicant was rejected because he had not shown a genuine interest in the position. However, because one of his interviewers had described him as "overqualified," the applicant argued that the reasons given for the decision not to hire him were a pretext. The court ruled that the applicant was entitled to have a jury decide the issue, stating that the word "overqualified" might simply be "a code word for too old." Of course, there can be legitimate business reasons for turning down an overqualified candidate. But where the employer’s decision is really motivated by considerations of age, the rejection will not pass muster.

Source: Warner & Stackpole, Boston.

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