The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, meeting en banc to review an earlier three-judge panel’s decision, has ruled 8-4 that the provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) do not cover job applicants, only those with “status as an employee.”


The Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, seat of the 7th Circuit Court

The Jan. 23 ruling relied on the text of the ADEA — and a dictionary — to reach its conclusion. The relevant text says it is unlawful for an employer “to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee [emphasis added], because of an individual’s age.”

The dictionary was brought out to prove that the word “applicant” does not include “status as an employee” in its definition.

The case being heard was brought by a lawyer named Dale Kleber, who at the age of 58 in 2014 applied for a senior in-house attorney position but was passed over in favor of a 29-year-old applicant, who also possessed the required experience. The district court hearing the case tossed it, but a three-judge panel of the 7th circuit reversed upon review. The recent decision reversed the panel’s determination.

The 7th circuit, seated in Chicago, covers Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.