Oct 16, 2007

54 Is the New "Old Fuddy-Duddy": Google Age Discrimination Trial to Go Forward

A California court of appeal reinstated a fired manager's age discrimination lawsuit against the search-engine giant Google, finding that the trial court shouldn't have thrown the case out before a jury heard the facts. Brian Reid, who was fired at the age of 54, claimed that he was demoted into a dead-end position and later fired because of his age. Google claimed that his position was eliminated. The court of appeal's decision will give Reid his day in court.

Here are a few noteworthy lessons from this case:

Respect your elders. At the grand old age of 54, Reid was referred to as an "old man," an "old guy," and an "old fuddy-duddy," told he was "slow," "fuzzy," "sluggish," and "lethargic," and told that his ideas were "obsolete" and "too old to matter." He was also told that he should replace the CD jewel case that served as his office placard with an LP. Apparently, when only 2% of a company's workforce has celebrated a 41st birthday, those in their 50s start looking like visitors from the Stone Age.

Don't plan the firing by email. Part of the evidence Reid presented were email messages suggesting that Google's managers were trying to get their stories straight. One message said that the company's decision to give Reid no bonus might not be "consistent with all similarly situated performers"; if that wasn't clear enough, the message also suggested giving Reid a bonus and severance package "to avoid a judge concluding we acted harshly." A company vice president asked for guidance on what to say if Reid asked for a position in another department, asking that the HR Director "make sure I am completely prepped" and "get me clear on this" before she had to talk to Reid. After much back and forth, the HR Director concluded, "We'll all agree on the job elimination angle." Even if there was a legitimate reason to fire Reid, this type of evidence sure makes it look otherwise.

Do the math. As a company that's perhaps best known for an algorithm, Google needs to have an answer for the claims of Reid's expert witness, a statistician who reported a statistically significant negative correlation between age and performance rating, as well as age and bonus amount, at Google. For every ten-year increase in age, the statistician found a corresponding decrease in performance rating and a 29% decrease in bonus. Google challenged this evidence on a variety of grounds, but the court of appeal found that those kinds of arguments have to be decided by a jury, not by a judge before trial.

To learn more about age discrimination and the laws that prevent it, check out Nolo's article Avoiding Age Discrimination.

Lisa Guerin


Honestly, what's the difference between being fired and having your position eliminated? Either way, you still have to jump back in the job hunt. This situation looks way to suspicious, and I think that Google is trying to get away with what looks like blatant age discrimination, on the surface.