San Francisco — Lawyers for a fired Google director who was told he was not a “cultural fit” for the Internet company and criticized for being “sluggish,” “lethargic” and “an old fuddy duddy” told the California Supreme Court on Wednesday that there was strong evidence that Google discriminated on the basis of age.
Paul J. Killion, an attorney for the fired employee, said during a hearing that there was “direct” evidence, including e-mails, that Google preferred younger workers.
The case before the court was brought by Brian Reid, whom Google hired when he was 52 and fired two years later. Google said it fired Reid because his position was eliminated. Reid, a former associate professor at Stanford University who holds a doctorate in computer science, was told in his only written performance evaluation at Google that he consistently met expectations.
The evaluation said his goal should be to adapt to Google’s culture.
“Right or wrong, Google is simply different: Younger contributors, inexperienced first-line managers, and the super fast pace are just a few examples of the environment,” his supervisor wrote, according to legal documents. An appeals court ruled that Reid had presented sufficient evidence of age discrimination to have his case brought before a jury.
Google appealed, and the state high court will determine the kind of evidence courts may consider in deciding whether a case should go before a jury. Although most of Wednesday’s oral argument involved procedural issues, Justice Carlos R. Moreno asked whether judges should refuse to consider discriminatory remarks by company employees who were not involved in the firing.
Reid has said that colleagues referred to him as an “old man” and told him his knowledge was ancient. If such remarks were ignored in deciding whether a case should go to trial, would that “totally usurp the function of the jury to decide” whether the statements were relevant? Moreno asked.
Paul W. Crane Jr., representing Google, said remarks made by “non-decision makers” were irrelevant in such cases. Chief Justice Ronald M. George asked whether Reid’s age discrimination claim was contradicted by the fact that Google hired Reid when he was 52. George also noted that a failure to explore new ideas or to be imaginative could have nothing to do with age.
Reid’s lawsuit included statistical evidence that he said showed older workers received worse evaluations and lower bonuses than younger employees.