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The impact of a landmark Hawaii employment case

The 2015 Hawaii Supreme Court case Adams vs. CDM Media dramatically altered the employment landscape in Hawaii. This case is important as it clarified two key factors when employers make hiring decisions. In the last two years, this case has had a major impact on job applicants, employees and employers. Upon closer examination of the case, employees and job seekers can have a better understanding of how employers in Hawaii make hiring decisions.

The facts of the case

A 59-year old woman who had been out of the workplace for the past five years to care for an ill parent applied for an inside sales position with a media company. She earned an interview with an HR manager, but was denied the job based on the company president's decision. Instead of hiring the 59-year old woman who had past sales experience, the company hired four applicants between the ages of 24 and 38.

The woman subsequently filed an age discrimination lawsuit which was eventually heard by the Hawaii Supreme Court. In a statement under oath, the company president stated that he did not hire the woman because she did not have any sales experience in the last five years. The company president also indicated that he made the hiring decision because most of her previous sales experience was outside sales rather than inside sales.

How did the Hawaii Supreme Court rule?

In a 5-0 decision, the Hawaii Supreme Court held that the plaintiff provided sufficient evidence of age discrimination for her case to go to trial. The more impactful part of the case was decided in a 3-2 decision. The court's ruling offered two guidelines to employers to clarify both the job description and the hiring decision.

First, the court held that actual job requirements must be articulated by employers. In this case, the company president said that he did not hire the plaintiff because she had had no sales experience in the last five years. However, the company did not state that applicants needed to have current sales experience. Therefore, job seekers should be informed of the criteria upon which hiring decisions will be made.

Secondly, hiring decisions should be made upon an applicant's ability to do the job. If an applicant does not receive a job offer, the employer should explain why the applicant is not qualified to perform the job.

How does the Adams case empower job seekers?

Because of Adams vs. CDM Media, job seekers should have a better understanding of job requirements and should know at the outset whether they are qualified to perform a job. If a job seeker believes the employment description was unclear, is left without explanation for denial of a job, or believes the employer based the hiring decision on discriminatory practices, there may be grounds to file a lawsuit to earn compensation for damages.

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