California’s Supreme Court Takes up Age Discrimination at Google

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May 26, 2010

For better or for worse, California is one of those places that always seems to be on the cutting edge of workplace issues. And, that’s why a lot of people will be watching carefully this week as the California Supreme Court takes up an age discrimination case against tech giant Google.

As the San Jose Mercury News reports , the case against Google by Brian Reid, a 54-year-old engineer who was fired back in 2004 because he was not a “cultural fit” for the company, “has attracted attention from employers’ and workers’ rights groups across the state because it could help define how much evidence is needed to press an age bias lawsuit.”

“The justices are reviewing a San Jose appeals court’s conclusion,” the newspaper says, “that Reid is entitled to take his case to trial because he’d presented enough evidence for ‘a fact finder to conclude Google engaged in age discrimination.’ “

The Mercury News story lays out the details behind the alleged age discrimination against Reid, but the more interesting part of the story is this: what if the alleged discrimination is part of a high-tech culture that no longer exists?

“We’re talking about a case that’s happening now, that’s reaching the Supreme Court now, from a company that when this all happened it was six or seven years ago,” said Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, a leading online newsletter that follows Google and other search companies. He told the Mercury News, “In Internet dog years, that’s like 60 to 70 years. Perhaps the culture was even more youngish back then — it doesn’t mean it’s the case now.”

Google is notoriously secretive and “declined to disclose a breakdown of its workforce by age or say how many employees are at least 50 years old,” the newspaper notes, but that sort of detail is likely to be something that California’s highest court takes a close look at.

Still, it makes me wonder what the court will do if they find that the workplace practices at Google that Reid claims are discriminatory have been modified and changed to eliminate that sort of behavior? What if Google has fixed this problem all by itself, without any court intervention?

It’s an interesting question in my book, and given the track record of significant, workplace-changing decisions coming out of the California legal system, this one may be worth watching closely, because it may someday have an impact on YOUR workplace.

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