Median age at Google is 29, says age discrimination lawsuit

Lawsuit recounts experience of a programmer who tried to get a job at Google

young workers

The typical employee at Google is relatively young, according to a lawsuit brought by an older programmer who is alleging age discrimination.

Robert Heath, a software engineer, was 60 when he applied in 2011 for a job at a rapidly growing Google. He wasn't hired despite having "highly-pertinent qualifications and experience," and being deemed by a Google recruiter as a "great candidate," according to Heath's lawsuit. The complaint was filed in U.S. district court in San Jose, California.

In a statement, Google's response to the lawsuit was: "We believe that the facts will show that this case is without merit and we intend to defend ourselves vigorously."

The lawsuit appears to make its case, in part, around some specific age data.

Between 2007 and 2013, Google's workforce grew from 9,500 to more than 28,000 employees, "yet as of 2013, its employees' median age was 29 years old," the lawsuit claims.

That's in contrast to the median age of nearly 43 for all U.S. workers who are computer programmers, according to the lawsuit. Heath's lawsuit seeks class-action status.

The data the lawsuit uses to set the median age at 29 was collected by Payscale, a benefits and compensation research company. The data was based on 840 profiles of full-time, regular, U.S.-based employees. In the case of Google, the margin of error was about 4%, according to Katie Bardaro, Payscale’s lead economist and director of analytics.

Payscale operates an ongoing online compensation survey. "People come to our survey to understand their price in the labor market and how they compare to others like them," said Bardaro said. In the survey, participants are asked about their job, their employer, background characteristics and demographics.

In the complaint's account, Heath was contacted by a recruiter with Google's engineering staff. The company was looking for candidates with experience in C/C++ and Java. "After reviewing your experience, I thought you would be a great candidate to come work at Google and add value," wrote the Google recruiter to Heath.

There was a technical telephone interview that, as described in this lawsuit, appears to have been handled oddly. The interviewer was 10 minutes late to the call, "barely fluent in English," and "used a speaker phone that did not function well." Heath politely asked him, repeatedly, to use the phone's headset but the request was declined.

Consequently, Heath and the interviewer had difficulty understanding each other. One part of the interview involved writing a short program to find the answer to a problem posed by the interviewer. Heath accomplished the task and offered to share it via Google Docs or email, but, instead, the interviewer required Heath "to read the program coding over the phone." It did not go well. The interviewer "seemed not to understand" what was being read, the lawsuit states.

Heath was not offered the job.

Heath, who lives in Boynton Beach, Fla., has a bachelor's degree in computer science, and has worked for IBM, Compaq and General Dynamics. He also has a master certification in Java, which he achieved with a certification test score "higher than 96% of all previous test takers," according to the lawsuit.

Prior to bringing the lawsuit, Heath filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission as well as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and received right to sue notices from each.

Heath's lawsuit cites a prior age discrimination lawsuit filed by a former technology manager at Google, who was called an "old fuddy duddy." That case was settled out of court.

"The disproportionately low number of older workers and the history of discriminatory remarks at Google provide significant evidence of age discrimination, and we're hopeful that this lawsuit will help end discriminatory practices at Google and deter discrimination in the industry," said Daniel Low of Kotchen & Low, in a statement, which is representing Heath.

Editor's note: The story was updated to add the lawsuit's source for the data on the median age of Google employees, a benefits and compensation research company called Payscale.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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