Such a toss-up today. Do I write about the widespread sexual harassment pervading McDonald’s or a recent and ongoing age discrimination case against Google?

I’m going to go with Google because I’ve been writing so extensively about sex discrimination, manterrupting, mansplaining, and sexual harassment lately.

Anyway, age discrimination. While it’s said that age ain’t nothing but a number, is it really?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination related to any aspect of employment, including hiring, the subject of the Google suit. The ADEA also prohibits policies and practices that have a “disparate impact” on older workers. These are policies that may appear to be age-neutral but fall more harshly on older workers. One example could be a company that only seeks new graduates or those with less than a few years of experience.

After reviewing U.S. District Court Judge Freeman’s Order certifying a class action age discrimination lawsuit against Google, Fortune aptly wondered whether age 40 is too old to work at Google after plaintiffs allege that despite being qualified, since they are over 40, they cannot get a job at Google.

According to the complaint, filed by Cheryl Fillekes and another over-40, the median age for programmers at Google is 29 compared to a national average of around 42 years-old.

These stats are for real folks. One of the most powerful tech companies in the world is being run by kids under 30!

No dummy is she, upon certifying the class, Judge Freeman also requested Google to submit a list of software engineers who interviewed with and were rejected by the company. You can read the California judge’s Order here.

OK, so I wouldn’t be able to get a job at Google and neither would a whole lot of people I know.

Would a little botox help get a job there? Maybe a facial? Unlikely.

The Google recruiter in this case instructed Ms. Fillekes to “mark down her dates of graduation on her resume” so they could see how old she was. Really now. Plaintiffs’ attorneys are going to eat that up!

While Google denied the allegations and pointed to its anti-discrimination policy, Judge Freeman opined that such a policy alone is not an adequate to rebut the plaintiffs’ evidence and allegations.

Policies or practices that have a disproportionately adverse impact on older workers also violate the ADEA unless the employer can prove they are based on a “reasonable factor other than age.”

As Rich wrote here, “Perhaps some employers think that they can escape being caught discriminating against older people if they code their language. Or maybe they are just used to making ageist comments because they have, as the EEOC has said, ‘outdated prejudices and biases.’ Either way, these comments may be seen as code words, or perhaps in political parlance — ‘dog-whistle’ expressions, which are designed to ‘convey a predetermined meaning to a receptive audience, while remaining inconspicuous to the uninitiated.”

Given this, I’m interested to read what additional defenses Google will raise.

Anyway, back to the policy, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again—having a kick-ass, strongly-worded policy is worthless if your company does not enforce its anti-discrimination mantra.


How do you enforce an anti-discrimination policy and stay off the EEOC’s radar?

  1. Apply the “trickle down” theory where there is a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination from the upper echelons of the company to the mail room. People follow the leader so when executives and managers create a workplace free of discrimination, others tend to “follow the leader,” a phenomenon Rich discussed at length here.
  1. Training and communication. Communicate with your people and train your employees, supervisors, and managers so that they are not (intentionally or otherwise) rejecting older workers in favor of younger workers. Bring in a speaker to talk about inherent bias and check the wording on your job descriptions.

Age discrimination suits against companies who appear to have youth-oriented corporate cultures are on the rise. Don’t let your company be next.