Déjà vu: Google Sued for Age Discrimination (Again)

October 14, 2016

In 2007, a former Google executive, Brian Reid, was discharged from Google. Shortly afterwards, Reid filed a lawsuit claiming that he was discriminated based on his age. Reid cited being called an “old man,” an “old-fuddy duddy,” and being told that his ideas were “too old to matter.” Ultimately, the case was settled outside of court.
Fast-forward to April of 2015, once again Google was sued—this time by a 64-year-old job candidate—for age discrimination.  Despite being told that Google was “’embarking on its largest recruiting / hiring campaign in its history,’ and ‘[he] would be a great candidate to . . . work at Google,’” Robert Heath did not receive the job.  Additionally, the lawsuit noted that “Google had a median age of 29.” These facts, combined with Heath’s extensive experience “at IBM, Compaq, and General Dynamics” made Heath believe that Google was discriminating against him based on his age and filed a lawsuit.
Once more, Google has been sued for age discrimination. Earlier this week, Google was sued by “two job applicants, both over the age of 40, who interviewed but weren’t offered jobs.” The “judge ruled that other software engineers over age 40 who interviewed with the company but didn’t get hired can step forward and join the lawsuit.” More specifically, the people who can come forward are those “who ‘interviewed in person with Google for a software engineer, site reliability engineer, or systems engineer position when they were 40 years old or older, and received notice on or after August 28, 2014, that they were refused employment.”
A Google spokesperson asserted “[Google has] strong policies against discrimination on any unlawful basis, including age.”  The judge believed that even though Google does indeed have anti-discrimination policies—they are not a shield, “particularly in light of the evidence and allegations presented here.” Moreover, the judge noted that “most, if not all, companies are well versed in anti-discrimination and make great efforts to ensure their written policies comply with anti-discrimination law.”
Age is not just an “issue” (more on this below) at Google.  While the median age of the U.S. worker is 42, as mentioned earlier, the median age at Google is 29-years-old. The median age is not much higher at other prominent tech companies. Facebook, for example, has an even lower median age of 28. Amazon and Apple, on the other hand, have higher median ages of 31. The lowest median age for a tech company was surprisingly AOL with a median age 27 (a commenter on the report comically said, “And the winner of ‘Company with the Greatest Age Disparity Between Workers and Customers’ goes to . . . [AOL].”) Evidently, the problem is not just with Google, who is not even the worst offender of the many prominent tech companies in America.
Reasonable minds can, and in fact do, differ regarding whether the low median age in the tech industry is in fact an issue. “From 2008 through [2015], [Silicon] Valley’s 150 biggest tech companies faced 226 complaints of age discrimination filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, 28 percent more than complaints of racial bias and 9 percent more than those of gender bias.” Michael Welch, an employment lawyer, noted that “tech companies are singularly uninterested in and even distrustful of long résumés.” This distaste has led many older prospective employees to go to different lengths, sometimes drastic, to make themselves “seem younger as they try to win over potential bosses younger than their kids.”

There are reports of employees even going as far as getting plastic surgery in order to appear younger.

However, the low median ages is not without purpose in some minds. For example, “Mark Zuckerberg famously summed up the Valley ethos at age 22, when he told a Stanford audience, ‘Younger people are just smarter.’” Moreover, Jonathan Nelson, the CEO of Silicon Valley social network Hackers/Founders, expressed, “’If you’ve worked at a large company for 10 years and get laid off, chances are your skills are six generations behind.’” Echoing a similar sentiment, Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, explained that “in the tech world, gray hair and experience are really overrated.” Overrated or not, the tech industry appears to have a bias for a younger workforce.
Since the suit is in early stages, it is hard to say what will end up happening. This is not Google’s first time being sued for age discrimination, and based on the number of similar suits that other tech companies face, I am sure it will not be the last.