Legal proceedings are underway in a 2011 age discrimination lawsuit against International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 117’s apprenticeship program,. The lawsuit has the potential to determine whether apprentices are considered employees and whether apprenticeship funds can be sued under the definitions of the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

According to the complaint filed in the Northern District Court of Illinois’ Eastern Division, John Snowwhite, 44, alleges that he was given artificially low aptitude test scores during the selection process for apprenticeship with the IBEW Local 117 Joint Apprenticeship and Training Fund in order to conceal his alleged disqualification due to age.

Plaintiffs to age discrimination lawsuits under the ADEA must be 40 years of age or older to qualify. Snowwhite was 39 at the time of his first interview for the program and 40 at the time of his re-interview, while parties to the suit agree that all admitted program applicants were 30 years old at the oldest.

The Illinois Human Rights Act protects apprenticeship and training program applicants between the ages of 18 and 40 from discrimination on the basis of age.

One issue to be resolved in this case is whether the fund employs enough people to be subject to the ADEA and whether the ADEA applies to an organization of its structure. If apprentices in the training program are considered employees and the Fund qualifies as an employer, employment agency, or labor organization, the Fund may be subject to the ADEA. However, attorneys for the Fund claim that it is an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) welfare fund instead.

In a recent opinion, Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown denies the Fund’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the court lacks the necessary information to determine whether the Fund can be sued under the ADEA. Discovery of evidence and depositions will continue, possibly followed by a jury trial or a successful motion for summary judgment.