A 64-year-old software engineer sued Google for age discrimination on Wednesday after the company didn’t hire him four years ago.
Robert Heath, of Boynton Beach, Fl., was 60 years old and had a background working at IBM, Compaq and General Dynamics when he interviewed for a Google job in February 2011. His 21-page class-action complaint filed in federal court Wednesday seeks a jury trial, monetary damages and changes to Google’s HR policies.
Google declined comment Thursday.
The lawsuit claims “persons age 40 or older are systemically excluded from positions for which they are well-qualified. The end result of Google’s pattern and practice of age discrimination is a workforce with a median age of 29.”
Heath’s lawyer, Daniel Low, said in an email Thursday that “the disproportionately low number of older workers and the history of discriminatory remarks at Google provide significant evidence of age discrimination, and we are hopeful that this lawsuit will help end discriminatory practices at Google and deter discriminatory policies and practices in the industry.”
Google has in recent years sought to level the playing field for women, African-American and Latino tech workers after acknowledging its workforce is not very diverse, but hiring more older workers has not been one of Google’s stated priorities.
It was a Google recruiter who first contacted Heath after apparently discovering his website in February 2011, sending him an email that said the company was “embarking on its largest recruiting / hiring campaign in its history,” according to the lawsuit. The recruiter emailed that he thought Heath was a “great candidate” after reviewing his experience.
But a phone interview conducted by a Google engineer who tested his coding skills several days later did not go well, according to Heath. Heath said in the lawsuit that he answered the technical questions correctly, but the Google engineer’s lack of English fluency and insistence on using a speaker phone led to communication difficulties. The same recruiter who first contacted him later emailed back notifying Heath that Google was not going to pursue the “next step” in the hiring process, without fully explaining why.
The lawsuit cites as precedent the high-profile case of Brian Reid, who was fired as Google’s engineering director in 2004. The California Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that Reid presented enough evidence, including comments from colleagues mocking him as an “old fuddy-duddy” and not a “cultural fit,” to make a discrimination claim.
A professor who has criticized tech companies for hiring cheaper foreign programmers over older Americans said it was too hard to tell what really happened in this case.
When Google employees visited the University of California, Davis for a recruiting event last year packed with students, the recruiters said they asked the same questions to both young and old applicants, said Norm Matloff, a UC Davis computer science professor.
“I believe that, but it’s probably also true that Google sets the bar much higher for the old
applicants in terms of how well they answer those questions,” partly to justify the higher wages they might expect, Matloff wrote in an email Thursday.
“What I’ve been seeing a lot recently is companies refusing to even consider older American applicants for jobs for which the Americans are deemed by the employer to be ‘overqualifed,'” Matloff wrote. “The company then hires foreign nationals for those jobs.”
Above: Google employees walked to and from the Googleplex in Mountain View in June 2014. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)