In the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq, Congress in 1967 prohibited discrimination in employment because of a person’s age, but limited the protections of the law to individuals who are at least 40 years old. The preamble to the statute explained that Congress wanted to prevent the setting of arbitrary age limits to the disadvantage of “older workers.”
Connecticut has a similar prohibition against age discrimination in the state Fair Employment Practices Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60, but without any limitation of the statute’s protections “older” individuals. Thus under the Connecticut statute, a teen could in theory make a complaint alleging that he was discriminated against because he was too young.
You might think this is an unlikely scenario, but apparently it is not too unlikely for the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”), which enforces the Fair Employment Practices Act. According to a recent newspaper article, Bass Pro Shops, a national retailer which is the first major business at Bridgeport’s Steelpointe harborside development, advertised an up-coming job fair as open to those 18 years of age and older. The Missouri based business has an 18-and-over policy, presumably in the hope of maintaining an appropriate level of maturity in its workforce. (It’s worth mentioning that Bass Pro sells knives and guns, among other hunting, fishing, and outdoor gear.)
But since no good intention ever goes unregulated, a spokesman for the CHRO announced that because child labor laws permit employment of 16 and 17-year-olds (albeit with certain restrictions), the job fair might not be compliant with state law. A teen-aged applicant could not be excluded from applying for a non-restricted position simply because of his age. We’re not aware of any instance where a Connecticut employer’s 18-and-over policy has actually been challenged either at the CHRO or in court, but employers may wish to review and modify their hiring policies to avoid this new and unexpected type of age discrimination claim.