Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: Age Discrimination in Social Media Giants

By Marsha Richard

Age matters more than anticipated in the technology world.[1]  Large social media companies like Facebook prefer younger employees who can be molded and have a better understanding of technology.[2]  While this common practice is rarely expressed outright out of fear of age discrimination, it remains a truth in Silicon Valley.[3]

Gary Glouner is suing Facebook for age and disability discrimination, as well as wrongful discharge and retaliation.[4]  The fifty-two-year old former Facebook employee claims he was subjected to several derogatory remarks pertaining to his age.[5]  After taking medical leave in October 2015, he claims he was terminated because of his age and his opposition towards Facebook’s alleged unlawful discriminatory employment practices.[6]  Glouner further claims that the “notion of older people being less connected, less in-touch, a poor cultural fit, unqualified, slow and/or less energetic was a philosophy promulgated by Facebook and habitually reinforced.”.[7]

Glouner’s claims seem to be rooted in Facebook’s work culture.[8]  Facebook’s “young feel” not only transcends through their target user group, but also through the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg.[9]  During a 2007 speech, Zuckerberg expressed that he wanted to “stress the importance of being young and technical.”[10]  He added, “Young people are just smart.  Why are most chess masters under 30?”[11].  Facebook’s alleged philosophy seems to be replicated in other tech giants as younger employees contribute to their fresh and dynamic environment.[12]  This has left employees with a feeling that they have “peaked” in their usefulness to their companies before reaching the age of thirty.[13]

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) seeks to promote the employment of older persons based on their abilities rather than their age.[14]  Further, it prohibits arbitrary age discrimination, while also seeking to improve employer-employee relations in discovering ways to address age related issues in the workplace.[15]  Particularly, the disparate-impact provision of the ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer to negatively affect an employee’s status because of their age.[16]  However, this provision has traditionally only protected those forty or older.[17]  The law has continued to evolve; for example in Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC., the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit created a circuit split by holding that so long as an individual falls within the forty or older subgroup, subgroup claims may be brought regardless of whether an individual is towards the younger end of the ADEA’s forty or older protected class.[18]

While a younger culture may lead to growing innovation, unexpressed discrimination by tech giants leads to a larger issue of a large portion of the workforce being forced out of their jobs and livelihood.[19]  Older workers bring a diversity of thought and experience, which are pivotal elements to any industry’s success.[20]  In 2016, the tech market expanded 2% to approximately 7.3 workers, however, by 2024 the tech industry will have an anticipated shortage of 1.8 million workers.[21]  Ageism and growing litigation are forcing many to look away from the tech world, but will the common Silicon Valley culture finally be reversed, showing that these old dogs are here to stay?[22]

 

[1] See generally Vivek Wadhwa, Silicon Valley’s Dark Secret: It’s All About Age, tc (Aug. 28, 2010) https://techcrunch.com/2010/08/28/silicon-valley%E2%80%99s-dark-secret-it%E2%80%99s-all-about-age/.

[2] See id. (noting that tech executives prefer to spend time training younger workers who can rapidly learn coding methods, stay at the office later, and do not carry any “technology baggage”).

[3] See id. (stating that technology executives will not publicly admit that engineers must either move up the corporate ladder or face unemployment).

[4] Glouner v. Facebook, Inc., No. BC677017 (Cal. Super. Ct. Sept. 22, 2017).

[5] See Adam Lidgett, Facebook Hit With Age Discrimination Suit From Ex-Worker, Law360 (Sept. 25, 2017, 4:56 PM) https://www-law360-com.proxy.wcl.american.edu/media/articles/967542/facebook-hit-with-age-discrimination-suit-from-ex-worker (explaining that younger employees have commented and joked about his age, stating that “old people don’t belong at Facebook” and “old people are just creepy.”).

[6] Id.

[7] Lidgett, supra note 5.

[8] Id.

[9] See Salman Aslam, Facebook by The Numbers: Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts, Omnicore (August 11, 2017) https://www.omnicoreagency.com/facebook-statistics/ (stating that Facebook’s largest online user group are between 18-29 years old); see also Lidgett, supra note 5 (discussing that Mark Zuckerberg expressed that young people are smarter).

[10] Kaja Whitehouse, Suit Claims Mark Zuckerberg Thinks ‘Young People Are Just Smarter, n.y. post (Sept. 22, 2017, 10:05 PM) http://nypost.com/2017/09/22/suit-claims-mark-zuckerberg-thinks-young-people-are-just-smarter/.

[11] Id.

[12] Joe Lazauskas, Is 27 The Tech World’s New Middle Age?, Fast Company (Sept. 15, 2015) https://www.fastcompany.com/3051030/is-27-the-tech-worlds-new-middle-age

[13] Id.

[14] Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 u.s.c. § 621(b) (1967).

[15] See id. (noting that part of the purpose of the act is to help employers and workers address age related problems in the workplace).

[16] 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(2). See Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC. 849 F.3d 61, 80 (3d. Cir. 2017) (creating a Circuit split by holding that disparate-impact claims are not limited to a company’s policies between individuals under forty and over forty, but may include subgroups of individuals forty and older).

[17] See Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC. 849 F.3d 61, 80 (3d. Cir. 2017) (mentioning that “although the ADEA protects a class of individuals at least forty years old, it ‘prohibits discrimination on the basis of age and not class membership . . . .’  It is therefore ‘utterly irrelevant’ that the beneficiary of age discrimination was also over the age of forty.”).

[18] Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC. 849 F.3d 61, 80 (3d. Cir. 2017).

[19] Lazauskas, supra note 10.

[20] Jon Swartz, Ageism is Forcing Many to Look Outside Silicon Valley, But Tech Hubs Offer Little Respite, USA Today (Aug. 4, 2017) https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2017/08/04/ageism-forcing-many-look-outside-silicon-valley-but-tech-hubs-offer-little-respite/479468001/ (last updated Sept. 13, 2017).

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

 

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