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
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.
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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