Gainesville teen wins initial ruling for 'youth discrimination'


Published: Friday, March 1, 2013 at 6:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 at 6:50 p.m.

Think of age discrimination and most likely older workers will come to mind as the target, especially in this age of downsizing.

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Mug of Gainesville resident Colin Smith.

But a Gainesville teenager has won an initial ruling after filing a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations alleging discrimination by an Oaks Mall clothing store that would not hire him because he was 17 years old.

Oak Hall School senior Colin Smith said he now plans to pursue a court case against the store Buckle, which cited age when declining to hire him last summer.

“Youth discrimination has never really had a fair chance — no one has really ever taken a look at it,” said Smith, now 18. “I am going to call the clerk of court ... and petition for a hearing.”

Orlando attorney Angela Duerden, who represents Buckle, declined to comment on the case.

Buckle sells clothing aimed at teens and young adults. Smith said he applied for a job last summer and, when he did not hear from the manager for two weeks, called to ask about the job.

Smith said he was told that he would not get a job because he was under 18, the age of job qualification for the company. Shortly after that, Smith said, he got a job at the Hollister clothing store in The Oaks Mall.

After researching the issue, Smith filed a complaint with the state commission.

In its response to the complaint, Buckle said that it does not hire minors under the age of 18 because workers would be required to use box cutters and a trash compactor.

Buckle also said that the Department of Labor had fined it for allowing minors to operate a trash compactor, so the company voluntarily agreed to stop employing minors in positions that require that.

However, the state commission noted in its decision that the company provided no documentation to support its claims or that operating a compactor is an essential function for all jobs at Buckle stores.

The commission ruled that it found reason to believe that Buckle discriminated against Smith based on his age. Mediation was held as a result of the ruling but no agreement was reached.

Commission spokesman Frank Penela said the agency does not track cases by age but added cases involving discrimination against teens are rare or possibly unprecedented.

“Anecdotally, we cannot remember having one,” he said. “If we have had one, it hasn’t been in the last five years.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said federal law prohibiting age discrimination applies only to people age 40 and older, so the agency has no statistics on age discrimination against teenagers.

Smith said he has already had one mediation session with Buckle. If Smith files suit, the judge would order more mediation before the case proceeds, he added.

While Smith can collect compensatory damages should he win in court, he said his main goal is to try to prevent job discrimination against other teens.

“It’s really not about a remedy for me,” he said. “It’s that if there is some kid out there and wants a job to make money to put himself through college or whatever that need may be, and is constantly being denied an opportunity to work when in reality he can still perform that job.”

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