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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



Lars Sandstrom, EEOC v. County of Maui


Army Master Fitness Trainer Lars Sandstrom, then 45, boarded a flight bound for Maui to interview with the Maui Police Department (MPD). The Honolulu Police Department was not hiring at the time, so Lars headed southeast ready to serve. What he encountered in a conference room 104 miles away, though, may as well have been an episode of Punk'D. . .

"I doubt someone your age can handle the training," said the Internal Affairs Captain. The Deputy Chief agreed, "Yeah, I doubt he can do the holds."

Lars described his experience in the Army and the rigorous, month-long course needed to become an Army Master Fitness Trainer, but was met with disbelief and further doubt: "I've never heard of such a thing. . .   I also doubt someone your age could take orders from younger officers."

Q. How Has This Experience Affected You?

I felt interrogated not interviewed. The age discrimination was very blatant. There was no attempt to be subtle or anyway disguise it. It almost put me back on my heels. I was wondering where the camera was. . . it just kept getting worse.

I left there with the most incredibly uncomfortable feeling of my life. I have never felt so betrayed, so violated. I am not sure there is a word sufficient to express the feeling of violation I had. You can't feel, think. . . you're flummoxed by it all. Emotionally it eats away at you. That was the first time in my life I felt like a victim.

Q. When Did You Decide to File a Charge of Age Discrimination?

I went straight from the MPD to the airport to see if I could get an earlier flight. The blatancy of it all had me dumfounded. While I was waiting, I started looking through the phonebook for an attorney to talk to about what had just happened. They explained the process and filing with the State of Hawaii Labor Relations and the EEOC. That night I couldn't sleep, wrote an email, and got everything ready to send off.

Q. How Was Your Experience with the EEOC?

When I dealt with the EEOC for the first time, I realized a lot of emotions because I could begin to get it off my chest. That made it feel a lot better. I wanted someone to investigate it, and I wanted the people who did it to be held accountable.

Everyone I dealt with at the EEOC I was very impressed with. There is nothing they should have done that they didn't do. They were impartial investigators until they became my attorneys and advocates. I have nothing but good things to say about the EEOC. The wheels of justice grind along slowly sometimes, but the outcome is worth it. All I ever wanted was for it to get investigated properly regardless of the outcome.

Q. Why Do You Think the MPD Did What They Did?

I think they thought, for whatever reason, that they needed a bunch of young guns. I think they made a hardline determination of who they were going to hire. They were looking for a specific thing: age. It wasn't a legitimate interview. They had made their decision before I showed up.

Q. What Do You Want People to Take Away from Your Experience?

If something like this ever happens to you, it is wrong. It is illegal. You should not look the other way. You should not ignore it. You should not accept it. You should ask for and pursue justice. There is a mechanism to ensure that justice is given to you after injustice occurs, and you should seek it. It's what is due to you under our laws and Constitution. You should not settle for or accept less.

Don't allow the fact that what you say will be disputed stop you from reporting it. The veracity of your statements will be challenged, but remain steadfast in the knowledge and believe that right will prevail.

Q. What Do You Want People to Know About Older Workers?

Don't judge a book by its cover. Judge your employees by the quality of their character and what they bring to the table, what they do. Look at objective v. subjective standards.

From the EEOC Attorney's Perspective

Q. Why Was This Case So Important to Older Workers?

This case was important to highlight the continuing struggle older workers face to overcome stereotypes that prevent them from being hired into positions that they are more than qualified to hold. 

Older workers are devalued not because of their abilities but, rather, unwarranted fear or stereotypes that they somehow cannot perform the job. 

Q. Why Did the EEOC Stand Up for Older Workers in this Case?

The EEOC is committed to stand up for older workers because everyone should be valued by their abilities and afforded equal footing in being considered for a job-rather than driven by stereotypes that are not based on any fact or truth.  The ADEA is one of the statutes we enforce and, 50 years later, our work is more imperative than ever.