Google Age Discrimination Case Is Cautionary Tale

Lora Bentley

Risk management challenges can come up in a thousand different ways. Google is dealing with yet another one.


This week the California Supreme Court upheld an appellate court's decision that a former Google employee had enough evidence to take his age discrimination case against the search giant to trial.


According to The Mercury News, Google fired then 54-year-old Brian Reid just two years after he had been recruited as the company's director of operations and engineering. Though Google denies Reid's dismissal had anything to do with his age, Reid offered evidence that coworkers frequently referred to him as "old man," "fuddy-duddy," "slow," not a "cultural fit,"and "sluggish." Also, a supervisor allegedly told him his ideas were "too old to matter."


The trial court originally dismissed Reid's case, ruling that the "stray remarks" from his coworkers, who were not directly involved in the decision to let him go, could not be used to establish an age discrimination claim. However, the appeals court decided otherwise, and the state's highest court agreed.


Reid's attorney, Lori Ocheltree, said her client is "delighted" and "eager to have his day in court."


A Google spokesperson reiterated that the company looks forward to proving the legitimate reasons for Reid's termination.


Attorneys who have kept an eye on the case say the decision means it will be easier for employees in California to get their age discrimination claims before a jury. Moreover, employees are likely to become hyper-vigilant about training employees not to make comments, even in passing or jokingly, about older coworkers who are perhaps not mastering new technology as quickly as they would like. After all, as Proskauer Rose partner Anthony Oncidi told The Wall Street Journal:

If you have a blockhead in the workplace who makes an offensive comment, that can now possibly get pinned on the whole organization.

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