In most cases, it is extremely difficult to prove any form of discrimination in the workplace, and especially in the hiring process. Ageism is no exception. Very few employers will come right out and say that they’re not hiring you because you’re too old. And what are the odds you could prove they did so even if they were to behave in such an idiotic fashion? This is not to say that it’s impossible to win a court case involving age discrimination, but you’ll need to convince a judge or jury (or at least a pro bono attorney) not only that you were discriminated against, but that you have enough proof to reasonably support your contention. When it comes to the hiring process, it may be nearly impossible without certain factors on your side.
Just because you happen to have a pretty good idea that you weren’t hired because of your age doesn’t mean you can prove it to the satisfaction of judicial review. Suppose, for example, that you applied online, went through a phone interview, and were told that you were the top candidate for the job due to your experience and winning personality. Then you showed up at the office for a formal interview. The hiring agent got one look at you and realized you’ve been voting since before he was born. You knew immediately that you were out of the running; you saw it in his eyes. You went through the motions of the interview, doing your best to impress, but you knew it was over the minute he saw the silver in your hair. Ouch.
Now further suppose that he felt bad about it and against his better judgment (and company policy) he called to let you know the reason that you weren’t hired. Armed with this information you walked yourself right into an attorney’s office to file a suit for age discrimination. Here’s the problem. Were you taping that phone call? No. Will the employee of the company testify on your behalf? Not likely. So where are you? Even though you know you were the most qualified candidate and you know that the company didn’t hire you because of your age, it’s your word against theirs. No attorney will take this case. It’s like trying to hire a motorcycle accident attorney Atlanta to Albany to file suit against a beekeeper because a bee flew up your sleeve and caused you to lay down your hog. In short, it’s not going to happen.
Maybe you can show that a company has a long history of firing and failing to hire older candidates. Or perhaps you can convince someone at the business that rejected you to be a whistleblower (assuming you can find someone in the know that’s even willing to talk to you). But it’s a long shot, and it might not be enough to convince a judge or jury. The best thing you can do is try to use your age to your advantage. Remind prospective employers that you have not only the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to do the job, but that you have far more wisdom and a calmer temperament than kid right out of college. You may have a harder time landing a job than a fresh-faced twenty-something, but you have a lot to offer the employer willing to look past your age and see what you bring to the table. You just might have to toot your own horn pretty loud to be heard.