Google Age-Bias Suit by Job Seeker to Proceed as Group Case

  • Company accused of bypassing older workers for younger hires
  • Judge allows others denied jobs since 2010 to join lawsuit

A woman’s age-discrimination lawsuit against Google can include others who might have been denied a job with the company because they were deemed too old.

A federal judge in San Jose, California, on Wednesday gave conditional approval for the suit to proceed with group status on behalf of people age 40 and older who unsuccessfully sought engineering positions with the internet giant since August 2010.

Cheryl Fillekes claims she was interviewed by Google four times from 2007 to 2014 and was never offered employment despite her “highly pertinent qualifications and programming experience” because of her age. She accused the company of “a systematic pattern and practice of discriminating” against older people.

U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman said that while her ruling doesn’t address the merits of the case, Fillekes supported her ageism allegations with statements by other rejected job applicants to show that they were all allegedly “the victims of a single decision, policy or plan.” The company will have another chance to argue that the case isn’t suited for group status after more evidence is collected, the judge said. Freeman denied group status to a man denied a job at Google who also alleged age bias.

William Fitzgerald, a Google spokesman, declined to comment on the decision.

HP, PwC Suits

Wednesday’s ruling comes as other companies fight age-bias cases in which employees seek class-action status. HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. were accused in August of cutting “tens of thousands” of employees 40 years and older and replacing them with younger workers. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP was sued in February over claims that it prides itself on hiring “millennials,” while turning away older job seekers. PwC has denied the claims.

Tesla Motors Inc. was sued last month by an engineer who claims his age, 69, was “a substantial motivating factor” in his February firing, although he didn’t file the case as a class action.

Google objected to group status, saying in a court filing that it’s received more than 1 million applications for engineering jobs in the past six years and has no way of knowing who was 40 or older because it doesn’t collect data on birth dates. The company argued that sorting through all the facts about why specific individuals weren’t hired makes the case unmanageable.

The company also said that the ageism theory floated by Fillekes is “speculation, not proof” because it interviewed her multiple times after it could have learned she was over 40. Google said that while Fillekes and the other job seekers she has cited as examples in her case were found by staff interviewers to be “Googley’’ enough to to be a good fit for the company’s culture, they didn’t demonstrate the technical aptitude required for the job.

Daniel Kotchen, an attorney for Fillekes, said the next step will be to reach out to Google job applicants to find people qualified to join the case.

The case is Heath v. Google Inc., 15-cv-01824, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

— With assistance by Mark Bergen

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