August 8th, 2012

Most Minnesota readers know that age discrimination is prohibited by federal employment law. In fact, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act specifically outlines the issue of age discrimination and when it is prohibited. Still, not all employers abide by relevant laws, even seemingly simple anti-discrimination laws. It is particularly surprising when one of those employers is a government entity.

This week, an appeals court ruled that the State Department violated federal employment laws when it forced the retirement of a 65-year-old man working as a safety inspector in the U.S. embassy in Paris. The man said that he had intended to continue working and was still able to perform all of his job duties when he was forced to retire. The State Department admitted to forcing the retirement because of the man’s age, but said that it was in line with French laws mandating retirement at age 65.

The State Department asserted that since the man was not employed inside the United States that he was not subject to U.S. employment law. However, the man is a United States citizen and paid income taxes for the duration of his employment for the State Department in France, suggesting that he intentionally availed himself of the burdens and protections of United States laws.

One argument made by the State Department was that enforcing United States employment law would discourage them from hiring U.S. citizens as employees and that they would hire local foreign nationals instead.

The court responded to this writing, “it is unclear how allowing the United States to discriminate against its own citizens on the basis of their age – or disability, race, religion, or sex – would promote the hiring of U.S. workers abroad.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, “Court: State Dept. Employee Is Covered by Discrimination Law,” Joe Palazzolo, August 7, 2012.

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