Google Under Fire for Age Bias in Hiring

By Roy Maurer May 8, 2015
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A 64-year-old engineer filed an age-discrimination lawsuit against Google in federal court, seeking to form a class action of workers age 40 and over who allege they were denied a chance to work at the tech company because of their age.

Robert Heath charges in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., that Google violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) by not hiring him for a software engineering job in 2011 when he was 60 years old, despite his previous work experience in information technology positions, including software engineer positions with IBM, Compaq and General Dynamics.

The lawsuit states that Heath was contacted by a recruiter with Google. The recruiter sent Heath an e-mail explaining that the company was “embarking on its largest recruiting/hiring campaign in its history” and that “After reviewing your experience, I thought you would be a great candidate to come work at Google and add value.”

Heath took part in a technical telephone interview several days later. In the lawsuit, Heath said the interviewer was 10 minutes late to the call, “barely fluent in English” and “used a speakerphone that did not function well.” Heath and the interviewer had difficulty understanding each other, according to the complaint.

Two days later, the recruiter e-mailed Heath to say “unfortunately, based on the feedback we received from the engineer who conducted your technical phone interview, we’re not going to be continuing on to the next step in the process.”

Following the interview, Heath said, he contacted Google’s HR department and explained what had occurred during the interview. The HR representative stated that the interviewer had acted inappropriately, according to the complaint.

According to the lawsuit, Heath believes that, by conducting the interview the way it did, Google did not have a sincere interest in hiring him and that Google’s interview policies and practices are disadvantageous to workers over the age of 40 as compared to younger candidates, who Google treats preferentially and hires in significantly greater numbers. Heath is seeking a jury trial, monetary damages and changes to Google’s HR policies.

Google said in a statement that “We believe that the facts will show that this case is without merit, and we intend to defend ourselves vigorously.”

Reid v. Google: ‘Old Fuddy Duddy’ Case

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 in alleging age discrimination—including statistical evidence supporting preferential performance reviews and bonuses for workers under 40 and negative statements by high-level executives concerning older workers—to warrant a trial. Reid said that he was referred to at the company as an “old fuddy duddy,” that he was told his opinions and ideas were “obsolete” and he was “too old to matter,” and that the company said he was terminated because he was not a “cultural fit.” The case was settled for undisclosed damages.

Young Workforces

The typical employee at Google is relatively young, according to the lawsuit and based on data from, a workforce information website. According to the data, the median age of employees at Google was 29 in 2013, while the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the median age for computer programmers nationwide was 43. The Payscale analysis came from a survey of 840 Google employees. According to Payscale, Google has the sixth-youngest workforce among 22 tech companies. AOL has the youngest workforce, with a median age of 27, followed by Facebook at 28 and LinkedIn at 29. Hewlett-Packard has the oldest, with a median age of 39, and Oracle the second-oldest at 38.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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