Silicon Valley has long held the reputation of being hostile toward older workers. And now we can add tech icon Hewlett-Packard to the list of companies being sued for age discrimination.
In a complaint filed Aug. 18 in U.S. District Court in San Jose, CA., four former employees of the company allege that beginning in 2012, HP’s goal “was to make the company younger.” As such, it targeted older workers for termination and then systematically replaced them with younger employees, according to the complaint filed and reported on by the San Jose Mercury News and other outlets.
The group of four severed workers is seeking class-action status for the court action and alleges that HP broke state and federal laws against age discrimination. Since 2012, HP has cut more than 80,000 jobs.
In a statement issued by the company, a spokesman said that “Hewlett Packard Enterprise has a long-standing commitment to the principles of equal employment opportunity and age inclusion is no exception.” The statement continued, “The decision to implement a workforce reduction is always difficult, but we are confident that our decisions were based on legitimate factors unrelated to age.”
The lawsuit alleges that Meg Whitman, the 60-year-old CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company and chair of the company’s board of directors, announced a goal to change HP’s “labor diamond” into a “labor pyramid” or a “quite flat triangle” with large numbers of young people at its base. The suit says she repeatedly made statements along those lines and that HP’s senior management team issued specific directives that required 75 percent of all new hires to be people who graduated college within the previous 12 months or “early career” employees with no more than five years of experience related to the job, according to the complaint.
The company also allegedly adopted early-retirement programs under which employees older than age 55 and with more than 10 years at HP under their belt were encouraged to voluntarily phase out their employment.
None of this surprises Norman Matloff, a UC Davis computer science professor who studies age discrimination in tech. Matloff noted that the view in Silicon Valley is that only young people have the up-to-date skills necessary to work in the tech sector. In an earlier conversation with The Huffington Post (unrelated to the specific HP suit), he underscored the obvious fallacy in this thinking: “Who do they think taught all those younger people what they know?” he said.
And of course, HP is not the only tech company accused of ageist practices. Google was hit with an age discrimination lawsuit last year. One of the plaintiffs in that case asked to have the suit made a collective action by all former Google workers allegedly discriminated against on the basis of age. Google is under federal investigation for age bias.
It is generally viewed that age discrimination lawsuits involving terminated employees are easier to prove than cases where older job applicants feel ignored in the hiring process. But a simple look at the average age of workers at some large tech companies provides the proof in the pudding that older folks don’t have a fair chance. The median worker age at Google is 29; same for Facebook.