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Google Loses Discrimination Ruling


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Wall Street Journal:

The California Supreme Court ruled that an age-discrimination lawsuit filed against Google Inc. should proceed to trial, potentially paving the way for more lawsuits that previously were blocked under a theory that crude and possibly discriminatory workplace comments were merely "stray remarks."

The ruling Thursday makes it harder for companies in California to defeat discrimination claims at an early stage, and employees are now more likely to get their claims in front of a jury, attorneys specializing in employment law said.

Brian Reid, who was a senior executive at Google between 2002 and 2004, alleged in a 2004 lawsuit when he was 54 years old that other executives at the company criticized his age and he was told he wasn't a "cultural fit" at the company at the time of his termination. Google was founded in 1998 by two 20-something computer engineers.

A spokesman for Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., said Mr. Reid "was not laid off based on his age" and looks forward to "demonstrating in court the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons why Mr. Reid was let go."

Daniel Westman, a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP who defends companies against employment claims, called the ruling a "very significant victory for employees." He said companies are likely to redouble their efforts to counsel employees against making potentially offensive comments, particular in dealing with their colleagues' struggles to master technology, which could be interpreted as a coded attack on their age.

Google had argued that Mr. Reid was fired due to poor performance and job elimination. The company eliminated an in-house graduate degree program that Mr. Reid was told to run after he was removed as director of operations in favor of a younger executive. The company sought to dismiss Mr. Reid's claims under the "stray remarks" doctrine, arguing that the alleged discriminatory statements made by coworkers were irrelevant because they were made by people who didn't play a role in the firing.

The "stray remarks" doctrine, which dates to a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, has been used by companies to cushion them from liability for crude, even discriminatory remarks made by managers against an employee who is later fired or demoted. If offensive remarks are made by employees who are not involved in a decision to fire or demote, or the comments are remote in time from the negative employment action, then many judges nationwide have considered these comments merely "stray remarks" entitled to little evidentiary weight.

"If you have a blockhead in the workplace who makes an offensive comment, that can now possibly get pinned on the whole organization," said Anthony Oncidi, a Los Angeles partner at Proskauer Rose LLP, who defends companies against discrimination claims.

Barry Bunshoft, a lawyer who represents Mr. Reid, said "Silicon Valley is a culture of youth and Reid was a victim of that." The Google spokesman noted that Mr. Reid was hired by a 55-year-old executive and said the company "values diversity in all aspects of our work force."

Mr. Reid, a high-tech veteran whose resume before Google includes leading a team that helped develop the first Internet firewall software, alleged that executives called him "an old man" and that his ideas were "too old to matter," among other things. Among the evidence in the case are emails sent by Mr. Reid's boss before his termination. In one email, the boss wrote to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, saying he was "looking for a senior Director (note I did not capitalize Sr.)" to replace Mr. Reid.

In a second email, the boss wrote to Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, saying the company should give Mr. Reid a bonus for his performance in order to avoid "a judge concluding we acted harshly...."

Mr. Reid sued the company in Santa Clara County Court after his firing, alleging violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, among other things, and he is seeking to get back $45 million worth of unvested stock options, according to his lawyer.

The state court ruled in Google's favor in 2005, saying Mr. Reid's age didn't appear to be a motivating factor in the termination. But in 2007 an appeals court disagreed, saying there was undisputed evidence of age discrimination but also a legitimate reason for dismissing Mr. Reid.

According to Google's standards, anyone over 35 is probably considered a "Fuddy duddy".
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This could be veeeeery interesting, for good or ill.


According to Google's standards, anyone over 35 is probably considered a "Fuddy duddy".


Age and deceit beat youth and skill.....every time!




About a year ago I moved to a new dept, and had to work with this guy who was always making remarks about "The Old Guy"...long story short, he's gone I'm still there. :evil:

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I'm surprised, but there is quite a bit of age bias in the online business community. I found that many of the 20 and 30 somethings believe that online business is substantially different than normal business. What's funny is that it just uses another tool...and the same business rules still apply. I found many of them saw online business as a money tree.


In any case, we interviewed a man who was in his 50s and very experienced, thoughtful and wise. He was ruled out because the rest of the team I worked with (who were all much younger than I) though he was too slow because he believed in planning before you begin a project and they wanted to just get it going. :rolleyes:

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