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Firms asking for ‘digital native’ applicants may be evading laws

Laws like the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibit several forms of employment discrimination. This includes denying jobs or discriminating against current employees based on age.

Unfortunately, having these laws in place, which give victims of discrimination the right to sue offending employers for damages, has yet to eliminate bias among management in California. At best, it has forced bigoted executives to be more subtle.

As Fortune discussed in a recent article, employers only interested in younger job applicants are asking for “digital natives.” This term goes back to a 2001 essay, in which the author defines a “digital native” as someone born since the dawn of the digital age. Digital natives are highly familiar with computers and the Internet, while older “digital immigrants” must teach themselves to adapt to these technologies.

Tech companies, such as those in Silicon Valley, have been especially interested in targeting younger workers, to the exclusion of those they believe are too old to do the job. Facebook once included a requirement in its employment ads that graduates from the classes of 2007 and 2008 were preferred.

That led to a lawsuit from the California Fair Employment and Housing Department, which Facebook settled in 2013. Perhaps in reaction to that litigation, companies have begun asking for digital natives in their want ads.

Coded language like this could potentially be evidence of age discrimination. With a few exceptions, no job applicant or employee should be subject to discrimination on the basis of their age — even in a supposedly young person’s industry.