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Utah Health Chief Regrets Comments Made to Job Applicants

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Dr. David N. Sundwall, the 65-year-old director of the Utah Health Department, insists he doesn't have anything against older hires.

After all, Sundwall was nearing retirement age when he took Utah's top health job just two years ago.

In an interview Wednesday, Sundwall said he regretted having asked a job applicant his age -- a question that cost taxpayers a legal settlement and brought Sundwall a stern reprimand.

David Rothschild, then 65, was applying for director of child-care licensing but didn't get the job and filed an age-discrimination complaint, winning $25,000.

"I had no idea that was an illegal question," Sundwall said about asking job applicants for their age. "It was ignorance on my part."

Rothschild told the AP last month that during the interview Sundwall had acknowledged it was an inappropriate question but wanted to know anyway.

It was one of two settlements Utah had to pay for impertinent questions Sundwall asked of job applicants at the Health Department in 2005.

The state's Risk Management Division in January paid Pennie Knudson, another finalist for child-care licensing chief, $50,000 after she claimed Sundwall expressed his dislike for the Family Medical Leave Act.

Knudson, already a Health Department employee, had taken time off to care for an adult daughter with an inoperable brain tumor and her children.

The state's human resources director warned Sundwall he could be fired for making any more inappropriate comments.

Sundwall -- who formerly worked for the American Clinical Laboratory Association and was an assistant U.S. surgeon general -- said he doesn't discriminate against older workers and hopes to stay employed for many more years.

"I hired someone better qualified," Sundwall said of Teresa Whiting, the new director of child-care licensing. "She's proven to be a good choice. I'm very happy with my decision."

---- On the Net: Utah Department of Health:

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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