Employers Cannot Avoid Liability For Discrimination By Subcontracting Hiring Decisions -- Halpert v. Manhattan Apartments

In Halpert v. Manhattan Apartments, Inc. a job applicant sued after being told he was "too old" for a position.  The prospective employer initially won summary judgment on the ground that it was not liable as the hiring decision was made by an outside contractor who was not its employee.  

The Second Circuit reversed on the ground that the independent contractor status of the decision maker was irrelevant -- so long as he was acting as an authorized agent on behalf of the Company it is directly liable for his discriminatory decisions:

That prohibition [against age discrimination] applies regardless of whether an employer uses its employees to interview applicants for open positions, or whether it uses intermediaries, such as independent contractors, to fill that role. . . . [I]t makes no difference whether the person whose acts are complained of is an employee, an independent contractor, or for that matter a customer.  If a company gives an individual authority to interview job applicants and make hiring decisions on the company's behalf, then the company may be held liable if that individual improperly discriminates against applicants on the basis of age.

This result is logically sound since a corporation acts only through its agents and must therefore bear legal responsibility for the illegal personnel decisions of those agents.   The decision is a stark reminder, however, that employers cannot absolve themselves of liability merely by delegating personnel decisions to outsiders such as temp agencies, business consultants, or even unions. 

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