The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals created a circuit split with a decision that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) allows disparate impact lawsuits by job applicants. Forty-nine-year-old Richard Villarreal applied for a position with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company but received no response. Approximately two years later, he filed a class action suit against the employer for allegedly violating the ADEA, claiming that R.J. Reynolds used unlawful age-related recruiting characteristics. A federal court judge dismissed Villarreal's disparate impact allegations, ruling that the ADEA permits such claims only from current employees. On appeal, a divided panel of the Eleventh Circuit reversed. Finding the language of the statute unclear, the majority deferred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) interpretation of the law to hold the ADEA does allow disparate impact suits by applicants. The panel further ruled the plaintiff was entitled to equitable tolling of his claim because he hadn't learned about the age-related recruiting characteristics until after the statute of limitations had run. A dissenting opinion said the majority's decision "has the potential to create bad law in two important areas," noting that the majority reached a different conclusion than three other federal appellate courts to consider the issue.
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