Justice

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit from a man alleging that Denver Public Schools did not hire him because of his age and national origin.

Alireza Vazirabadi applied to be a process improvement engineer with DPS in 2015. Vazirabadi, who was Iranian American and in his 50s, had a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and 20 years of experience. The qualifications for the job included an engineering degree, five years of experience and “strong collaborative leadership skills,” according to court documents.

DPS interviewed Vazirabadi over the phone, and then invited him and four other finalists for an in-person interview. One of the applicants’ tasks before the hiring panel was to facilitate a group discussion. Vazirabadi recalled that he had “excellent interactions and chemistry with all the panel members, for the entire 60 minute interview.”

“In contrast, DPS maintains that Vazirabadi dominated the conversation and failed to engage all members of the panel in the conversation,” wrote Judge David M. Ebel for the appeals court.

Each of the interviewers ranked the applicants in order of preference, with Vazirabadi coming in fifth place. Notes from the hiring manager indicated that he possessed the desirable work experience but was not perceived to “work well on a team.”

The rejection email from DPS made Vazirabadi feel “emotionally and physically sick, numb, humiliated and rejected.” He received a green light from the Equal U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission to sue, and a federal district court subsequently ruled for DPS after finding the facts entitled them to summary judgment.

The circuit judges agreed that even if the plaintiff had shown he was the subject of discrimination based on national origin and age, “DPS satisfied its burden of providing legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for not hiring Vazirabadi” — namely, how he did not meet expectations during the group discussion.

Although Vazirabadi did indicate he was bilingual on his online application, he did not have to provide his age or national origin. The person in charge of hiring stated she did not know about his response to the bilingual question because “she was not aware that applicants were required to complete an online job application.”

The case is Vazirabadi v. Denver Public Schools, et al. 

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