Note to EEOC: Hiring for “cultural fit” is also frowned on by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest HR professional society, representing 285,000 members in more than 165 countries.
In Hiring in the Age of Ageism , the SHRM advises employers to “work to structure interviews around skill sets, rather than softer ‘fit’ factors that can be a cover for discrimination. ”
The EEOC upheld two rulings in age discrimination cases last fall by its appellate division, the EEOC Office of Federal Operations (OFO), that endorsed hiring based on purely subjective factors like poise and cultural fit.
The complaints allege that two federal sector agencies violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 when they ignored the superior qualifications of the older applicants and hired far less qualified applicants under the age of 40 based upon subjective factors.
In one case, the Social Security Administration admitted that its hiring officer selected five applicants under the age of 40 – and rejected two highly qualified candidates age 47 and 60 – based upon how he thought they would fit within the “culture” of an SSA office that had not yet even opened. The hiring officer, a middle aged male, said he completely ignored objective qualifications, finding them to be “irrelevant.”
In the other case, a superbly qualified white male candidate, 48, was rejected in favor of a minimally qualified African American female candidate in her 20s because she “may have” had more poise, compassion, leadership and the ability to deal with stress.
The EEOC is extremely skeptical and carefully parses the use of subjective criteria in the hiring process when it involves race, sex, religion, national origin and color. The EEOC issued a policy guidance stating that hiring for cultural fit was discriminatory in a case involving national origin.
The EEOC has declined to comment upon why hiring for cultural fit is legal in age discrimination cases. The EEOC appears to have adopted a double standard that is completely unsupported by the ADEA and federal case law and which appears in itself be considered discriminatory.