The Inbox – Dissing the Qualified

| O'Neill, Ashley


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission scored a victory last week against PMT Corp., a Minnesota-based medical device and equipment manufacturer. According to the commission’s complaint filed nearly two years ago, PMT Corp. engaged in systematic discriminatory hiring practices by refusing to hire women and individuals over the age of 40 in violation of Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. According to Law 360, PMT agreed to settle the suit for $1.02 million payable to a class of applicants and a former PMT Human Resources professional who brought the company’s hiring practices to the EEOC’s attention.

The Twin Cities’ Star Tribune reported that of the 70 people hired between 2007 and 2010, not one was female, or over the age of 40. Witnesses for the commission’s investigation confirmed that PMT’s founder and President, Alfred Iversen, issued the hiring directives, complaining that “women in sales is a 100% failure rate” and are a “failure at travel.” At the time of the investigation, Mr. Iversen denied the allegations, and told the Star Tribune that he was under attack. “It may be the White House. I donate a lot of money to the Republican Party.” Fast forward two years, Mr. Iversen settled the lawsuit, but still denies the allegations. In addition to the monetary fine, PMT will be subject to four years of EEOC oversight and will review its workplace hiring policies.

While Mr. Iversen admits no wrongdoing, the hiring trends seen at his company, especially with respect to older female applicants, are far from idiosyncratic according to author Lauren Stiller Rikleen in her recent Harvard Business Review essay. Ms. Rikleen, citing a study by economists at the University of California at Irvine and Tulane University, asserts that women over the age of 40 experience the most workplace discrimination. The study’s researchers found “robust evidence of age discrimination in hiring against older women” when they submitted 40,000 “dummy” applications to online job postings. They observed that the callback rates for middle-aged female sales applicants were the lowest of all other groups of applicants.

While this study focused on applicants who seemingly had the requisite amount of experience on their resumes, an attorney for the EEOC pointed out the sales positions at PMT were actually entry-level. According to Nick Pladson, “If you are employing screens at the entry-level gateway to this industry, it’s sort of exacerbating the discriminatory impact of these policies where women and older workers aren’t even being allowed to break into the medical device industry, which in Minnesota, we have lots of companies here. That sort of barrier to hire has a tremendous impact.”

In this sense, the EEOC’s advocacy evened the playing field for women and older workers trying to get a foothold in the sales industry. On the other end of the career spectrum, however, issues remain once one’s resume starts to take on the tell-tale indicia of age and experience.