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Google faces trial on ageism claims

Jury to consider 'derogatory age-related remarks'

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Google has been ordered by the California Supreme Court to stand trial in a lawsuit brought by a 54-year-old man, who was dubbed a “fuddy-duddy” by his Mountain View colleagues.

Brian Reid put forward enough evidence that the court agreed showed possible bias to allow a jury to consider whether he had been dismissed from Google in February 2004 due to his age.

The ad broker had argued that so-called “stray remarks” made by its employees were irrelevant to a discrimination lawsuit.

Reid, who is now 60, worked at Google between June 2002 and February 2004. He was hired by the firm’s engineering veep Wayne Rosing (aged 55 at the time) as director of ops and director of engineering.

Reid presented evidence to the court that included an email exchange between Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Rosing.

It pointed out the company wanted to “avoid the tendency toward bloat here particularly with highly paid individuals”.

The email went on to discuss how Reid was not the right “cultural fit” for Google.

Reid also reported to the company’s engineering ops veep Urs Hölzle (then aged 38). In addition he had regular interaction with Google’s top brass, including Brin, CEO Eric Schmidt and Larry Page.

According to the court paper (PDF) filed in California yesterday, Reid alleged that Hölzle and other colleagues made “derogatory age-related remarks” to him while he worked at Google.

Hölzle said that Reid, who is an ex-associate professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, was “slow,” “fuzzy,” “sluggish” and “lethargic,” claimed the plaintiff.

“Other coworkers called Reid an ‘old man,’ an ‘old guy,’ and an ‘old fuddy-duddy,’ told him his knowledge was ancient, joked that Reid‘s CD (compact disc) jewel case office placard should be an ‘LP’ instead of a ‘CD,’” according to the court filing.

The Supreme court’s decision upheld a state appeals court ruling that the original trial court had been wrong to dismiss the lawsuit because it didn’t properly consider the “stray remarks” made by Reid’s colleagues.

As a result the case will return to the trial court.

"Brian Reid was not laid off based on his age," Google flack Andrew Pederson told Reuters.

"We look forward to demonstrating in court the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons why Mr Reid was let go." ®

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