On Age Discrimination: Is Age Just a Number?

April 25th, 2013 | Karelyn Lambert | 7 Comments

Human Question MarkWith age comes wisdom.

It’s a phrase that most of us have heard a dozen times or more. But does each birthday automatically grace you with wisdom, or is it your life experience that creates it?

Image: Free For Commercial Use via Flickr, CC 2.0

I grew up in a single parent household.

My mother was a cashier for the majority of my life, first at McDonald’s then at various convenience stores. This wasn’t because she lacked education. She graduated top of her class with a Bachelor’s in Biology.

My mother always stressed the importance of doing what you loved from the beginning. She told me that she had dreams of being an airline stewardess, but her father shot her down, telling her this was unrealistic. So she was forced to go to college to study something she really had no passion for. This resulted in a failure to excel, once she entered the workforce, in her field of study.

I have worked more than half my life, partially because I wanted to, but mostly because I have had to.

My first job was that of any traditional 16 year old as a cashier at a local grocery store. I disliked it from the beginning, but felt that (given my mother’s experience) something was better than nothing. One day, on my lunch break, I was browsing the local mall and was asked to participate in a survey by a girl my age.

I said yes, not because I was interested in the survey itself, but because I wanted to know how one got in this line of work without an extensive amount of education. After completing the survey, I spoke with the manager, who revealed that she was accepting applications. After a short conversation, I was hired.

I never imagined a simple conversation could change my life.

I worked as an interviewer for several months. I loved my job, and I was happy to go to work every day. I found that what my mother said was true. If you like what you do and you get paid for it, life is a lot less mundane.

After proving myself on the floor, I was offered an administrative office position as Assistant Manager at only 17. My boss looked past the stereotypes assigned to my generation, and instead focused on my track record as a top earner as well as my personal work ethic.

To this day I have a difficult time getting people to accept that I was a manager at 17.

A few years ago, I was job hunting and was asked to interview for a managerial position at a Taekwondo studio. When I arrived, the owner was automatically turned off by my age. It didn’t matter to him that I was dressed appropriately, shook his hand, made eye contact, and presented him with a professional resume.

The first question he asked me was my age. I calmly replied 24. He flipped through my resume and harshly said “So you expect me to believe that you were an Assistant Manager for a market research firm at 17?” Although my skin was boiling, I kept my cool and told him he was welcome to speak with my references who included my manager at said market research company. After a brief, very brief, interview, he informed me he would get back to me.

I was astonished that age could matter so much.

I was very hurt, not to mention quite embarrassed, by the whole experience and such blatant age discrimination. I may have been younger than most of his applicants, but I knew I had the right skills and experience to perform the job. As I tend to do in most areas of my life, I shook it off after a long-winded heart-to-heart with my husband and friends.

The next day I landed a job as a contractor working for The City of New Orleans Tax Department.  About a month into my new job, I received a call from the Taekwondo owner; seems he had checked my references and verified the information on my resume and now wanted to offer me the position. I respectfully declined.

To me the “moral” of my story is simply you cannot judge a book by its cover. Doing so prevents you from getting to know people for who they really are.

Labels are generated due to common traits, not cold hard facts that apply to every single member of a generation. Young, old, tall, short, everyone deserves a chance to prove who they really are. Who knows? They may surprise you.

Karelyn Lambert

Karelyn Lambert

Virtual Assistant
Karelyn Lambert is a virtual assistant and self-proclaimed geek who is also into fishing and cooking (she makes a mean jambalaya), and is based in the Metro New Orleans area. She and her husband are the proud parents of four kids: three human, and Chimmi the Chiweenie. With Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. as one of her clients, as one of her clients, Karelyn is fast learning why she should always use the Oxford comma.
Karelyn Lambert
Karelyn Lambert
Karelyn Lambert

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"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?

Shonali moderator

Like @ginidietrich said, that kind of discrimination is against the law, at least in this country. In India (where you know I grew up), it's quite common. You even have jobs posted with specific age requirements. Until I moved here, I never thought anything of it... now, of course, I have a completely different viewpoint!

I'm sorry you had to go through that, Karelyn. But you certainly had the last laugh in that situation, didn't you? Good for you!


As someone who likewise grew up in a single parent household (though with my dad rather than my mother), I too learned a lot about the importance of loving what you do. I watched my father jump from job to job for nearly the entirety of my childhood, leaving both himself and our family worse off than he would have been had he stayed at a job he hated for better money. Sure, he was happier at work, but the financial strain working a lesser job put on him was just as bad as the stress he endured at a better job.

While it is against the law in most states to discriminate by age, employers find a way to do it all the time, particularly in the higher education industry. The logic used is that if someone doesn't have much work experience, they must not be a good higher. This directly discriminates against younger job applicants, but employers can get away with it purely by saying the candidate wasn't qualified for the opportunity.

karelyneve moderator

@Tim Thank you for reading and sharing your experience.  I agree that there are loopholes that allow companies to discriminate against younger applicants.  

karelyneve moderator

@ginidietrich Very interesting. I was not aware.  According to my Google search this usually only applies to applicants over 40.  However, there are a few states where it is illegal to ask anyone over 18.  Thank you for reading and commenting.