September 18, 2019
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State rights panel finds age discrimination against Auburn firm

AUGUSTA, Maine — An East Dixfield man likely suffered age discrimination when an Auburn company required him to share his high school graduation date as part of his application for employment, the Maine Human Rights Commission decided this week.

Allen Ackley was 59 year old in 2013 when he applied for a job as a plant technician at Tambrands, Inc., a company that employs about 450 people who manufacture personal hygiene products at the plant in Auburn.

It is unlawful employment discrimination for an employer to elicit information pertaining to a protected class, which in Ackley’s case is age, investigator Angela Tizon wrote in her Jan. 23 report to the commission.

According to the report, Ackley was told to submit the dates of his graduation from educational institutions as moved through the multi-part application process. Tambrands also asked him for a photo identification and asked him to sign a form with his date of birth.

“Complainant alleges that the … pre-employment inquiries are unlawful under the Maine Human Rights Act and that they were used to screen him out due to age,” Tizon wrote.

Ackley believed he was doing well in the employment application process until company officials learned how old he was. He said he was highly experienced and qualified for the plant technician position and that he was rejected because of his age, while younger applicants with less experience were hired. In fact, the majority of people hired to be plant technicians were significantly younger than he was, according to the report.

“He believes this is evidence of age discrimination,” Tizon wrote.

But a Tambrands official told the investigator Ackley was not offered employment because he did not pass the interview panel stage of the application process. The company only uses the photo identification to see whether the person taking the in-person test matches the person who did the written application. The company said the fact that Ackley progressed partway through the application process shows that his high school graduation date was not used against him. The company also offered employment to applicants of a similar age, which shows that age was not a determining factor, the official told Tizon.

According to the investigator’s report, Tambrands had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for rejecting Ackley — that he did not score highly enough on the interview panel stage of the application process to advance to the next stage.

Ackley was not able to show that he was discriminated against because of his age, Tizon wrote. But the second part of his complaint — that he was subjected to unlawful pre-employment inquiries — is valid, she said.

“The commission has published guidance which states that asking for an applicant’s age or date of birth prior to employment are unlawful,” Tizon wrote. “Examples of unlawful requests include requests for dates of graduation from educational institutions or requests for a photograph with an application. An applicant’s date of birth (even for the purposes of a background check) may only be requested after an offer of employment has been made.”

She found that there are reasonable grounds to believe Tambrands discriminated against Ackley on the basis of age by subjecting him to unlawful pre-employment inquiries.

On Monday, commissioners unanimously agreed with Tizon’s recommendation. That decision triggers a mediation process during which commission staff will attempt to reach an agreeable settlement between Ackley and Tambrands.



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