Score one for ex-Googler Brian Reid in an age-discrimination suit he filed against the search giant in 2004. Reid won favor with the California Supreme Court in his quest to have the "stray remarks" doctrine overturned in his case.
The court's ruling affirmed an appeals-court decision on the doctrine. Typically, courts allow stray remarks -- remarks that display discrimination in the workplace -- to be included as evidence in suits if they did not come from people directly involved in the employee's termination.
Reid charges that Google executives pushed him out of the company before its billion-dollar initial public offering because he was too old to click with the young company's corporate culture. He pointed to discriminating remarks by several coworkers, including Google's senior vice president for operations and Google Fellow Urs Hölzle.
Stray Remarks Allowed
The California Supreme Court agreed to allow the statements as trial evidence that Reid was working in a hostile environment.
"Strict application of the stray-remarks doctrine, as urged by Google, would result in a court's categorical exclusion of evidence even if the evidence was relevant. An age-based remark not made directly in the context of an employment decision or uttered by a non-decision-maker may be relevant, circumstantial evidence of discrimination," the court wrote.
Eric Steinert, an employment lawyer at Seyfarth Shaw, said the ruling could pave the way for more age-discrimination suits in California: "As a practical result, employers will win fewer age cases on summary judgment."
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, agreed. He said the precedent the California court set is fairly broad and will reach beyond ex-Googlers who feel they were victims of discrimination to other companies by potentially allowing people who partially justify their case based on coworker comments.
"Many boomers are clearly well within the age-protected group. The boomers are now the largest age block that we measure. A lot of them will be at risk," Enderle said. "Boomers typically have been at (a) company for a long time, so the accumulation of merit raises and annual cost-of-living raises makes them a fairly expensive group. There is an historic tendency to try to eliminate these older workers."
Millions at Stake
The now-60-year-old Reid said he lost 131,917 stock options he could have exercised for tens of millions of dollars after Google went public. Google executives maintain that age is not a factor at the company, saying Reid was fired because the program he oversaw was being phased out due to poor performance. But Enderle thinks Reid might have a legitimate complaint.
"Typically in a company where you have a predominant number of folks who are younger, there is a tendency to want to get the older people out. Whatever the difference is, the majority group that makes up the company often exhibits behavior that is inherently discriminatory," Enderle said. "If Reid was one of the few folks that was in the over-40 class in a company that is predominantly under 30, there's little doubt in my mind that he would have experienced this type of problem. The question for the court is, does it cross over into being age discrimination?"
Posted: 2010-08-06 @ 2:58pm PT
Remember those pilots, all in their fifties, in the "Miracle on the Hudson " story in 2009. Experience means something. You either grow old or you die young. Here is the link to remind Google not to be bigots. Shame on Google. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28678669/