Google Hit With Class Action Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Google

Silicon Valley has been an unapologetic apartheid state for young workers for years but this could be about to change.

A class action age discrimination lawsuit was filed against Google, Inc. on April 22 by software engineer Robert Heath who was interviewed but not hired for a position at Google in 2011 when he was 60-years-of-age. The lawsuit alleges Google has demonstrated a pattern and practice of violating the Age Discrimination in Employment and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

According to the lawsuit, Google’s workforce is “grossly disproportionate” with respect to age. The lawsuit asserts the median age of the 28,000 employees who worked for Google in 2013 was 29.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor reports the median age for computer programmers in the United States is 42.8 and the median age for software developers is 40.6. According to the lawsuit, Google had 53,000 employees in 2014 and revenues of approximately $66 billion.

Google’s position with respect to age discrimination is completely inexplicable. The company last year made a public commitment to increase race and gender diversity in its workforce, and released workforce statistics relating to those characteristics. But Google was completely silent with respect to  age and did not release age-related statistics. It was as if Google’s position was that age is not a factor in workforce diversity.

Its not like Google can claim ignorance of age discrimination laws.  The California Supreme Court in 2010 reinstated an age discrimination lawsuit filed by former Google executive Brian Reid  finding that Reid had presented sufficient evidence of age discrimination in his firing by Google in 2002.  Among other things, Reid said Google colleagues referred to him as an “old man,” and “old guy,” and “old fuddy-duddy” and joked that his CD jewel case office placard should be an “LP” or long-playing record. Google subsequently settled the case out of court.

Heath, of Boynton Beach, FL, states that he was contacted and encouraged to apply to Google by a company recruiter who said Google was embarking on its largest recruiting/hiring campaign in its history. The recruiter said Google was looking for engineers with coding experience in the C++ and Java computer languages.  Heath holds a master certification in Java, scoring higher than 96 percent of all previous test takers for that certification, and a master certification in C ++, scoring higher than 89 percent of all previous test takers for that certification. He has more than 30 years of experience working with C++ and Java.

Heath said his initial interview was a telephone interview with an engineer who called ten minutes late and was barely fluent in English. Moreover, the engineer insisted on using used a speaker phone that did not function well.  Heath was asked to write a short program in code.  The engineer insisted that Heath read the program aloud. Even though the engineer “seemed not to understand” what Heath was reading, he refused to allow Heath to email the program to him or use Google Docs.

“[B]y conducting the interview as described above, Google intentionally did not allow Mr. Heath to communicate or demonstrate his full technical abilities, and did not have a sincere interest in hiring Mr. Heath,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering Google to adopt a valid, non-discriminatory method for hiring employees, to post notices concerning its duty to refrain from age discrimination, and to pay Heath and members of the class damages.

The case is Robert Heath v. Google Inc., 5:15-ev-01824 (4/22/2015).  It was filed in U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Jose, California.

New Big Idea Challenge: Stop Age Discrimination

bigidea

It is one thing to restrict participation in a youth soccer league to youth but what justification exists for restricting participation in an intellectual challenge on the basis of age?

Next City, a non-profit organization that receives funding from some of America’s major foundations, is hosting a gathering on May 6-7 in my city of residence, Reno, Nevada, that will feature “the top urban innovators, 40 years old and younger, working to make change in cities.”   According to the press release, Next City’s annual Vanguard Conference is “a chance for the brightest urban thinkers from the America’s to prototype a design intervention that, if successful, could be replicated elsewhere.”  The conference,“Big Idea Challenge, Reno 2015,” is being co-sponsored by the city of Reno.

You don’t have to be a bright urban thinker to recognize that this kind of event sends a negative message to people who are aged 41 and older. They are made to feel like “other,” “lesser” and “yesterday.”  Why? There is no evidence that America’s brightest urban thinkers are aged 40 and under.

Age discrimination is so prevalent in American society that it is invisible. But think about this. Would The Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and The Knight Foundation (among others) support an event that discriminates on the basis of race or sex?  Remember the old stereotypes about whites being smarter than blacks and men being smarter than women? Why is it more acceptable to characterize young people as brighter and more innovative than older people? Age discrimination is just as harmful as discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin or gender orientation.  And all discrimination is fueled by false stereotypes and fear and animus directed against a discrete group

One of the most prevalent stereotypes about aging is that people become rigid with age or less vital and creative. This stereotype is given free reign in Silicon Valley, the home of high tech, which is a virtual apartheid state for young workers. But moving from age 40 to 41 does not cause any loss of brain function or ability to innovate or to be creative.  In fact, there is considerable evidence that that the reverse is true.

According to Newsweek,  older entrepreneurs are more innovative than younger workers. They are less in the news because they tend to start new companies that produce complex technologies like biotech, energy or IT hardware and to sell their products and services to other businesses, which consumers rarely see. Newsweek cites a study by Duke University scholar Vivek Wadhwa of 549 successful technology ventures that found most were started by people over the age of 40 and that older entrepreneurs have a higher success rate than young people when they start a company. Wadhwa is the director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research at Duke. Newsweek also cites a study by the Kauffman Foundation that found people older than 55 are almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between the ages of 20 and 34.

Innovation cannot be predicted by age. One reason that people (including older people) think that young people are brighter and more innovative is that they are bombarded with negative messages, such as the one sent by the Next City Vanguard “Big Idea” event. The goal of Next City and the city of Reno  is admirable – to help urban centers that are struggling with poverty and unemployment. For this reason, I don’t want to write off the organization but I would propose that Next City consider a new Big Idea Challenge – how to embrace diversity and encourage a society where everyone, regardless of age, is treated with dignity and respect.

New Book: Tender, Tawdry & Timeless Book Dedications

Dedications.KindleBookCoverFINAL.41315

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Tender, Tawdry & Timeless Book Dedications.

Yes, I  advocate by day to end workplace discrimination, bullying and abuse but at night I engage in the gentler pursuit of collecting book dedications. There are many surprising human stories behind book dedications, old and new, and they tell us much about the times.  Most of the dedications in this collection are accompanied by commentary about why the dedication is significant or what was happening in the life of the author.  Book dedications reflect humor, drama and even mystery.

Who knew that Dr. Seuss and his wife couldn’t have children and so he created imaginary children to dedicate his books to?  Most readers pass by the book’s dedication  page with nary a glance but not England’s former reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth. She was so incensed about a book dedication in 1599 that it almost cost the dedicatee, the Earl of Essex, his head.  Following the tragic suicide of poet Sylvia Plath, her book was republished by her ex-husband but Plath’s book dedication had mysteriously vanished.  

This collection features book dedications that span the ages, from lovely Elizabethan stanzas to the sometimes tawdry dedications of authors in more recent times.  Perhaps the most beautiful book dedication of all time was written by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who shortly thereafter abandoned the recipient – his pregnant wife – for another woman.  But there also are many book dedications that do reflect timeless love.  One contemporary author dedicated all of his books to his wife when she was living and, after she died, he dedicated a book in her honor. By contrast, the nadir of book dedications surely occurred in 1992 when an American rapper dedicated his memoir to his private body part. (He reportedly regrets it!)

Tender, Tawdry & Timeless Book Dedications  is a fun excursion through literature’s back streets and alleyways.  It’s available as an ebook and in paperback.  I hope you enjoy it … and please share this news with your friends!

 

It’s Time for a New Magna Carta

Magna Carta

It’s time for a new Magna Carta.

Eight hundred years ago, an English monarch averted a Civil War by affixing his name to the Magna Carta, a 1215 document that contained concessions to England’s barons after years of arguments over royal power. The Barons were exasperated at the king’s arbitrary rule and high taxes.  The significance of this ancient document is that citizens are entitled to certain basic rights under the law and that no one is above the law. The Magna Carta was a major step toward forming modern democracies and influenced early American colonists and the formation of the U.S. Constitution in 1789.

Now, eight hundred years later, America has strayed from a basic tenet of the Magna Carta – that the government should be accountable to the people.

One reason that America is such an unequal society today is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That 5-4 decision made it unconstitutional to ban free speech through the limitation of independent communications by corporations, associations and unions. This decision legalized super-PACs that secretly accept unlimited sums of money from corporations and spend the money to boost a specific candidate, often through negative television advertisements targeting the candidate’s opponent. The point of these PACS obviously is to influence the outcome of elections and the policies that are enacted by candidates who are elected to serve as politicians and judges.

According to Politico, the conservative billionaire Koch brothers are expected to spend at least $889 million to support GOP candidates in the upcoming presidential race and it is likely that equally obscene sums will be secretly funneled into the election campaign to support Democratic candidates.  The Koch brothers operate multi-national companies involved in transportation fuels (i.e. the oil industry), building and consumer products, electronic connectors, fibers, fertilizers, membrane filtration and pollution control equipment. Does anyone think their motive for spending $889 million is purely altruistic?

A new Magna Carta is needed to clarify that government must be accountable to people and not to artificial legal entities that are structured to advance business interests.

The Magna Charter was signed on June 15, 1215 at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames River in England.  One of most important and lasting provisions of the Magna Carta is a provision prohibiting the government from arresting without cause “free men”  (This did not include women or poor people).

The evidence that politicians today do not represent actual people is not hard to find.  In my book, Betrayed: the Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that older workers are subject to epidemic, unaddressed age discrimination that is literally built into our law.  The problem got much worse in 2009 as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, which Congress has never bothered to fix.