Judge Offers Novel Interpretation of Experience Range in Job Advertisement

Forbes 15 hours ago

What does it mean when an employer advertises a job vacancy that contains a range of experience, such as “three to six years of experience”?

 Most people would read this to mean that the employer does not want to hire candidates with fewer than three or more than six years of experience.

But that’s not how Judge Hiram E. Puig-Lugo of the District of Columbia Superior Court read it.

He ruled the experience range was not an “cap” but a “minimal range of experience.” He said “three to six years of experience” means a “minimum” of three, four, five or six years of experience.

Judge Puig-Lugo ruled there was no reason to conclude that applicants with more than six years of experience will not be considered.


Imagine using Judge Puig-Logo’s reasoning in the following scenarios:

There is a prescription drug in your medicine cabinet that says take three to six tablets daily. Is this a minimum of three, four, five or six tablets daily? Can you take ten or 200 tablets a day?

The prosecutor offered a criminal defendant facing 10 years in prison a deal in which the defendant would serve from three to six years in prison. If that is a minimal range, the prisoner could be locked up for decades or even for life? Should he take the deal?

Your told your teenager he could invite three to six friends to a pool party and he invited the entire school.

At least one dictionary defines an age range as “the upper and lower ages considered suitable for a specific thing.”

Judge Puig-Logo did not explain why an experiential range in a job vacancy announcement should be interpreted differently.

Case Dismissed

Based on his novel interpretation, Judge Puig-Logo dismissed a case involving a job advertisement last February by the Office of the People’s Counsel of the District of Columbia for the position of attorney advisor. The announcement said applicants must have “[t]here to six years of experience,” preferably with an emphasis on water-utility regulation.

Attorney James W. Moeller, then 61, has decades of experience in administrative law litigation involving utilities. A Harvard law school graduate, he authored a 2007 article, Legal Issues Associated With Safe Drinking Water in Washington, D.C., that was published in the William & Marty Environment Law & Policy Review. Because the position stipulated fewer than six years of experience, Moeller said he was deterred from applying.

Moeller, who is representing himself, alleged in court documents that D.C.’s government routinely uses experiential ranges in job postings that exclude older workers. He notes the District processes applications with PeopleSoft Talent Acquisition Management Software, which can screen and auto-reject applications that reflect “too much” work experience.

Moeller charged that placing an experiential cap on job applicants violates D.C.’s Human Rights Act, which mirrors the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Is is unlawful under both to deny employment opportunities to individuals based on age and to publish job notices that indicate a preference for applicants based on age.

Evidence shows that imposing minimal years of experience in recruitment has a dramatic, disproportionate and adverse impact upon older workers.

Additionally, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has published regulations stating that “[h]elp wanted notices or advertisements may not contain terms or phrases that limit or deter the employment of older individuals.” The EEOC refers to terms such as “age 25 to 35,” “college student” and “recent college graduate.” Moeller argues that a three to six year experience restriction is the equivalent of “recent college graduate.”

Judge Puig-Logo ruled “it appears beyond doubt that the Plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim.”

Without elucidating, Judge Puig-Logo declared the three to six year range of experience “is a preference for a minimal range of experience, not a preference for a particular demographic or other protected classification. Further, the job announcement does not preclude from consideration applicants with shorter or longer ranges of experience.”

Judge Puig-Logo found it significant the D.C. job announcement contained a formulaic equal opportunity statement that  “all qualified candidates would receive consideration without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age…” He said that statement established “there is no legally viable claim for employment discrimination.”

The five attorneys who represented the District of Columbia in the case argued employers can lawfully reject applicants based on “overqualification” so even if Moeller’s interpretation of the facts was true it “would not follow” that the three to six year limitation was illegal.  

Moeller has filed an appeal.

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