When a then-emerging Google recruited engineer Brian Reid in the summer of 2002, it appeared to have landed a Silicon Valley superstar. Reid had managed the team that built one of the first Internet search engines at AltaVista. He’d helped cofound the precursor company to Adobe Systems. He’d even worked on Apollo 17.
But within two years, Google decided that the 54-year-old Reid was not a “cultural fit” for the company and fired him, allegedly after co-workers had described him as “an old man,” “slow,” “sluggish” and “an old fuddy-duddy.” Reid responded with an age discrimination lawsuit blasting Google’s twentysomething culture for shunning his generation in the workplace.
Now, Reid’s long-running legal feud with Google has reached the California Supreme Court, which this week will hear arguments that will determine if the age discrimination allegations will ever be aired to a jury.
In a case that has attracted attention from employer and workers’ rights groups across the state because it could help define how much evidence is needed to press an age bias lawsuit, the justices are reviewing a San Jose appeals court’s conclusion that Reid is entitled to take his case to trial because he’d presented enough evidence for “a fact finder to conclude Google engaged in age discrimination.”
Google’s lawyers appealed that decision, saying it was flawed and that Reid has offered up only a collection of “stray remarks” that do not merit a trial.
In court papers, they insist Reid was fired because he simply was not a good fit for the company, not because of his age. The justices will hear arguments from the two sides Wednesday in San Francisco. “There are plenty of older people at Google who do very well and do fit,” said company spokesman Andrew Peterson.