Google Ducks Job Applicant’s Age-Bias Claims

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge dismissed an age discrimination lawsuit against Google on Thursday, even as scrutiny into the technology titan’s employment practices mounts.

Google sought to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Cheryl Fillekes, who claims the company discriminated against her because of her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

“In terms of age discrimination, as time has gone on – and we are 50 years since the ADEA – it is needed now more than ever if you read the popular press,” U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman said.

However, she said case law likely bars Fillekes’ case, and the reasons are legally complex.

Fillekes was part of the first round of amended complaints, but then withdrew her claims after the first motion to dismiss.

Robert Heath, the lead plaintiff in the case, has always maintained his claims.

Fillekes then tried to reinstate her claims after U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar made a ruling in a separate age discrimination case that seemed to be favorable to the plaintiffs in the present case.

Google argued Fillekes essentially waived her claims after withdrawing from the case, that the age discrimination law only to employees and not job applicants, that Tigar’s ruling is nonbinding, and the age discrimination claims themselves are flimsy and based on questions asked to all applicants.

Fillekes said five aspects of the interview process constituted age discrimination, including being requested to provide graduation dates, the emphasis of abstract questions during the interview process, ignoring real-world experience, holding older candidates to higher standards than younger ones and emphasizing cultural fit or “Googleyness.”

Freeman didn’t agree with the flimsy claims argument, but conceded Google had a point on the waiver issue and the question of whether applicants are encompassed in certain protections set forth by the age discrimination law.

“The 11th Circuit opinion is a textbook case of a court struggling with a decision,” Freeman said during the hearing, referring to a case in which the three-judge panel ruled that while employees could bring disparate impact claims – the claims brought in the present case – job applicants could not.

But Freeman also said the issue seems far from settled and the majority on the 11th Circuit panel spent more time critiquing the dissent than putting forward its own legal interpretation of the law.

“However, I don’t necessarily disagree with the bottom line,” Freeman said, which is that the law is unambiguous in its assertion that job applicants are not covered.

On Friday, a day after the hearing, Freeman granted Google’s motion to dismiss on the claims as it relates to Fillekes’ case without leave to amend. However, Heath’s claims remain.

Google is also fighting a case recently filed in Santa Clara Superior Court in which a fired engineer claims he was discriminated against because of his conservative viewpoints and that the company broadly discriminates against white men.

Another federal case claims Google consistently underpays female employees. A separate investigation by the federal government into gender pay equity is also pending.


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