Origins of the case
The initial lead plaintiff, Robert Heath, claimed that he was subjected to age discrimination through the alleged unconscious bias of his interviewers. Mr Heath, aged 60 at the time of his interview, claimed his interviewers presumed that “byte,” meaning a unit of memory size, related to the modern eight-bit format rather than older alternatives that he would have had experience with. According to Mr Heath, this purported ignorance to preceding technological systems was evidence of unconscious bias against older prospective employees.
Mr. Heath settled his claim as part of an undisclosed settlement, following on from which, Cheryl Fillekes, aged 47 at the time, became the new lead plaintiff. According to Ms. Fillekes, she was subjected to discrimination on the basis of her age when she was requested to state her college graduation date in her resume. She alleged that Google adopted a “systemic pattern and practice of discriminating” following four unsuccessful applications for a role with the company. As the matter progressed, a number of additional plaintiffs joined the action.
Google’s reaction to the allegations
Google reached a settlement which will see it pay out $11m dollars to 227 prospective employees who claimed they were wrongly discriminated against throughout Google’s interviewing process.
In addition to the monetary settlement agreed upon, Google has also committed to introducing training for employees and managers to raise awareness of age discrimination and unconscious bias, as well as the foundation of a committee that will focus on bringing age diversity to its workplace.
However, despite agreeing to the settlement, Google has defended its recruitment policies, claiming that the applicants and parties to the class action lacked the technical aptitude necessary for the advertised positions. It rejected the claimants’ statements that they were not sufficiently “Googley” to achieve such employment.
Increasing prevalence of age-related workplace issues
Allegations of age discrimination are not new to the technology industry generally. According to a U.S. based study conducted by Payscale, many top technology firms operate a young average employee age. As noted in both William Fry’s 2019 ‘Age in the Workplace’ Report and the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) Annual Report (2018), age related discrimination claims accounted for 49% of equality complaints to the WRC in 2018 – an increase of 25% from the previous year. Meanwhile, the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office confirm an increase in the number of employees over the age of 65 in Ireland’s workforce.
An aging workforce, together with the recent growth in age-related litigation, serves as a reminder to employers to be mindful of the policies and procedures they have in place to guide employees and management alike on these issues in the workplace. You can find a number of best practice tips and insights into what other employers are doing in this space in our 2019 Age Report mentioned above.
These best practice tips include:
- Ensuring that recruitment material is age neutral and non-discriminatory.
- Providing anti-bias training to internal recruiters and decision makers.
- Aiming for diversity amongst recruitment and decision makers.
In addition, many employers are developing age-diverse policies and initiatives such as:
- Introducing return to work programmes for older workers to re-enter the workforce.
- Removing upper age limits on apprenticeships, internships and graduate programmes.
- Implementing occupational health and assistive technologies.