Attorney Joseph Bednarik had worked for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the state equivalent of the EEOC, for almost 17 years when he applied at age 55 for a new position with the state. During his interview, the Executive Director of the office told him that she was concerned that he would not stay in the position long and that she would not be able to replace him. Instead of hiring Joseph, she hired a much younger candidate, who did not have close to Joseph's experience.
Joseph had developed the saying: "Sometimes the difference in experience is so pronounced, it jumps off the page and hits you in the face. . ." Joseph found himself smacked in the face.
Q. When Did You Decide to File a Charge of Age Discrimination?
During the interview, the Executive Director asked me, "How do I know you're not going to get bored and leave?" I immediately became concerned with age discrimination. When I learned that I did not get the job and the person who did, it did not sit well with me. The woman who was hired was a law student of my wife only four years earlier. I knew that she was not qualified for the job as an Administrative Appeals Officer, and I was. It jumped off the page and hit me with a 2x4. It was clear to me that this could not have been justified on a merit basis. I felt going forward with a complaint was absolutely necessary on numerous levels.
Q. How Has This Experience Affected You?
I was completely devastated. I had been involved in litigation for almost 30 years. I wanted a break from that and the opportunity to make and interpret law in an appellate capacity. I saw this job as a way to complete the circle so I really really wanted it at the time.
Q. What Do You Want People to Take Away from Your Experience?
Don't forfeit your rights by not pursuing them. It is necessary to assert yourself because that is not the way it should go. There are remedies out there. Be patient. There is nothing to be gained by thinking that it needs to be resolved immediately. It will come in due course. Just be patient with it.
Q. How Was Your Experience with the EEOC?
I had a preconception about the EEOC that proved not to be correct. EEOC has so many cases, and personnel and resources are limited. I did not think that the EEOC would be concerned with a 55-year-old white guy missing a promotional opportunity. I expected to hear that it's a probable case, but you will have to take it to court yourself. I was pleasantly surprised that the EEOC wanted to go forward with a lawsuit, and I was really impressed, extremely impressed, by the EEOC attorney. I cannot say enough about how competent my EEOC legal representation was. I never had any doubt that he was completely knowledgeable, hard-working, and thorough.
Q. Do You Have Any Wishes for the ADEA as it Turns 50?
The significance of this law cannot be understated. People need agencies like the EEOC available to provide a remedy.
From the EEOC Attorney's Perspective
Q. Why Was This Case So Important to Older Workers?
As we mark the 50th anniversary of the ADEA, this case illustrates that age discrimination remains a serious problem in the workplace. It sends a strong message to all employers, public and private, that the EEOC will not tolerate age discrimination in the workplace.
Q. Why Did the EEOC Stand Up for Older Workers in this Case?
The EEOC will take vigorous action when an employer makes a hiring decision because of age.