July. 26,  ISSUE #041
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ONLINE search engine leader Google casts itself as an enlightened employer that pampers its employees with free meals and plentiful helpings of stock options.

But a lawsuit filed earlier this week by a recently fired Google manager offers a less flattering picture, contending the company has cultivated a culture that discriminates against older workers and fostered serious morale problems.

The civil complaint, filed in Santa Clara Superior court in the US, alleges Google fired 54-year-old Brian Reid as its director of operations in February 2004 because he didn't fit in a culture emphasising "youth and energy."

Google denied the allegations. "We believe Mr. Reid's complaint is without merit and will defend against it vigorously," spokesman Steve Langdon said. He declined to discuss why Reid lost his job

Wrongful termination suits alleging age discrimination are common in corporate America, but Reid's complaint could prove awkward for Google, an unorthodox company that has depicted itself as a progressive employer since its founding nearly six years ago.

Google co-founders Larry Page, 31, and Sergey Brin, 30, emphasised their devotion to the company's workers in a letter attached to the company's plans to launch an initial public offering of stock later this year.

"Our employees, who have named themselves Googlers, are everything," the letter said. "...We will reward them and treat them well."

Page made the final decision to fire Reid, according to the lawsuit. Reid said company executives initially gave him no reason for his termination before Shona Brown, vice president of business operations, told him he was incompatible with Google's youthful atmosphere.

After he left, Reid said he learned he was replaced by someone in their 30s.

Reid also contends he was discriminated against for having diabetes. He was diagnosed with the disease - a condition that "substantially limits his ability to engage in major life activities," according to the lawsuit - shortly after being hired in June 2002.

The firing cost Reid his annual salary of $US200,000 ($280,000) and 119,000 Google stock options with an exercise price of US30 cents per share. Based on estimates of Google's market value, Reid's stock options probably would have been worth about $10 million after the company's IPO.

The suit seeks to recover lost compensation and punitive damages. Reid's lawsuit alleges that Google's office are far from Utopian.

The complaint says Google recruited Reid, a technology industry veteran, from his last job as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University West "to correct some very serious problems...with its work force," citing management and morale problems among women in particular.

The suit didn't describe the nature of the trouble, but said that Reid cleaned things up. Reid never received a negative job review before his firing, the suit said.

During his tenure at Google, Reid said he gathered evidence that Google purposely avoids hiring older workers.

Just 2 per cent of Google's roughly 1,900 employees are over 40 years old, according to the suit. The average age of Google's male workers was 29.7 years old and the average age of women was 28.4 years old when Reid left.

The suit doesn't mention that most members of Google's senior management team are at least 40 years old. The older executives include: CEO Eric Schmidt, who is 48; Wayne Rosing, vice-president of engineering, who is 57; and George Reyes, chief financial officer, who is 49.

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