Both IT Business Edge contributor Don Tennant and I have written about age discrimination in the technology industry. In a post about OurExperienceCounts, a new job site geared toward older tech professionals, I cited San Jose Mercury News columnist Mike Cassidy's remark that age discrimination is Silicon Valley's "biggest open secret." I've also mentioned remarks by Vivek Wadhwa, who said tech companies prefer to hire younger workers not only because they will typically work for less money than older employees but also because they are more likely to be up-to-date on the latest technologies.
The title of one of Don's posts, Yes, Age Discrimination Is Worse in IT Than in Other Fields, is pretty self explanatory. A reader named Anthony, in a comment responding to Don's post, said as an IT veteran of 28 years he has "personally been aware of the age discrimination trends for years." He wrote:
All one has to do is simply look around IT shops and technology companies and the trend is irrefutable. IT is not a profession to grow old in. However, I hope optimistically that as IT continues to mature that the population of IT professionals will be able to mature with it.
With this in mind, it's safe to say IT employers will be closely watching the long-running legal saga of Brian Reid, the prominent engineer Google recruited but then fired, saying he was a poor cultural fit for the company. As MercuryNews.com reports, Reid's case is moving to the California Supreme Court, which will decide if his claims of age discrimination will be heard before a jury.
Reid contends that coworkers referred to him as "an old fuddy-duddy" and other derogatory terms. His filing also includes remarks from Rebecca LaBelle, a former Google recruiter, who said Google perceived older employees "as not being able to think out of the box, as not having the necessary energy to work the expected hours, nor to have the focus required to maintain Google's competitive advantage." In a post from late 2007, based on a Newsweek piece about Google's unconventional approach to professional development, I wrote that Google hires mostly young and freshly minted college grads and then assigns them responsibility for a Google product, pairing them with a mentor and a management coach. They are often sent on trips to emerging markets like India or China, where they average less than four hours of sleep a night.
Google counters Reid's allegations by noting that his immediate supervisor, the man who fired him, was 55 years old at the time. The search giant also says age discrimination claims cannot be based on "stray remarks" and circumstantial evidence. The court has 90 days to rule on the case, which experts think will impact future age discrimination cases -- by either discouraging or encouraging people to file them.
Interestingly, the article quotes Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, who says Google's culture may be growing more friendly to older employees as its workforce ages.