Age Discrimination Charges Bubble Up Again

Elderly PushupsTalk of age discrimination in the tech industry isn’t anything new, but it’s getting some new attention.

The pace of change is just breathtaking. We’ve entered a strange new world. There are opportunities, but they are different. You have to be edgy and supercreative. You’re not going to get a job that’s going to be assembly and filing and coding, and frankly, that can leave a lot of the older set a little bewildered.

Bewildered…and fired. This take on the environment in today’s Silicon Valley comes from Russell Hancock, president and chief executive of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, and it’s the centerpiece of a thought-provoking New York Times article that asserts that age discrimination in the Valley is real.

While Web-based companies like Facebook and Google are scouring the world for new talent to hire, older technology workers often find that their skills are no longer valued. Part of the problem, analysts said, is that many of the companies shedding jobs are technology manufacturers, while most of the companies that are hiring are Internet-based. Hiring managers at the Bay Area’s fastest-growing technology companies were blunt. Seth Williams, a director of staffing at Google, said his firm was looking for candidates who are “passionate” and “truly have a desire to change the world.”

Some assert that this language—”passionate, energetic, visionary”—is code for “young,” and that when someone is deemed to be a bad “cultural fit,” he or she may actually just be “old.”

In the past few years, lawsuits have been filed, most notably by 52-year-old Brian Reid, a Google manager who was fired in 2004—just days before Google went public. His claim: the badly timed dismissal cost him up to $45 million in lost stock options. The case was resolved out of court, but it opened the door to more suits and more discussion about what’s really going on in the Valley. As another observer put it, “Especially in social media, cloud computing and mobile apps, if you’re over 40 you’re perceived to be over the hill.”

True? Not true? Speak up. Tell us what you’ve seen in the trenches by posting a comment below.

44 Responses to “Age Discrimination Charges Bubble Up Again”


    Pure & simple truth! Employers won’t see “Life Experience with honest Professional focus” as a potential asset and won’t recognize the accrued costs of young, married Professionals needing to pay debts & MORE Medical Bills (like for babies, college loans, etc.)

      • I am 59 going on 60, Have been in Mainframes my entire career and my career has no expiration date & I offer them no discounts to keep me around. Been a DBA for around the last 20 years of my career and it has served me well. I am astounded at how little people are required to know in order to drag & drop chunks of code constructed by real programmers. We have lost the lead in World IT production due to the Bean Counters not being able to look past their next Quarterly report. But I have noticed a trend towards bringing Offshore applications back home. Even CEO/CFO types eventually realize that Cheap does not translate to Good.

  2. “Not a cultural fit” is a code phrase not only for “old,” but for pretty much any other act of discrimination an employer wishes to engage in. It’s the perfect loophole, because it can mean whatever the employer claims it does (and nobody is stupid enough to admit they are discriminating).

    • Cathy Sorensen

      Absolutely right on the mark! Wouldn’t it be great for companies to be incentivized to hire the mature aka more experienced? That way we can work longer and delay tapping into Social Security …it’s a win win.

  3. DustInTheWindAZ

    It is a sad commentary of today’s economy that careers are “disposable” and that companies are willing to “throw the baby-boomer out with the bath water”, all in the name of those companies “bottom line”.

    In the new “green” economy, we should also be thinking about “recycling” and “reusing” our mature (ages 45-65) workforce, which comprises approximately 25% of the TOTAL U.S. population (including those too young to be included in the workforce – significantly higher (33% of the workforce?) if you exclude them). Just because young workers are “energetic”, and “want to change the world” it doesn’t necessarily make them “qualified”; they are also naive and blind to corporate greed, who are only interested in getting the most out of wokers for the least amount of money before they become victims of job-burnout or obsolescence (can you say “outsourcing” or “offshoring”?). Mature workers are more experienced, because they have “been there, done that” before, and have those experiences to draw on, without having to “reinvent the wheel” time and time again. There really is nothing new under the sun; just the methods of doing it continue to change in order to create a “new” or cyclical market for replacing the workforce (see and include “products” to include “services”). So to all those “Gen-X” and “Gen-Y” developers: Prepare yourselves, as you will be one of us sooner than you think!

    • B'Elanna

      Actually, Gen Xers are old enough to be victims of age discrimination now, too. The oldest of us are 47 since our birth years are 1965-1980. I had the opportunity to experience the “not a cultural fit” syndrome working on a contract at the big G. This attitude of the tech companies makes it hard for people in even non-tech job functions to get and keep work in the Silicon Valley since so much of the economy is controlled by the tech sector. It makes me long for the days of aerospace and farm machine companies dominating the landscape and when it was still known as the Santa Clara Valley.


    I certainly agree about the new technology moving fast, where homogenization of data needs to reach all platforms (pcs, ipads, mobile phones and so on). However, there is one huge breach that older development engineers, QA engineers, project managers, QA managers and the like are expert at that younger folks cannot fill the void on without proper training. EXISTING applications that run the majority of the world’s businesses whose engines are powered by COBOL, Assembly, Fortran, and the more recent C language (still a new kid on our block). Yes, there are language converters, but that is a huge cost factor, because the converted code needs to run in parallel with the older code to assure accuracy of results. It is incumbent upon industry to hire older technocrats like me (Sr. QA Manager and Sr. Project Manager of Mainframe and Distributed products) for two reasons. First to make an immediate and positive impact toward managing the projects at hand, and second, as a bonus server as a mentor to younger engineers on how to maintain the existing applications written in those “other” languages (COBOL, Assembly, etc.). Without bringing back the experienced workers for the next 10-15 years, there is going to be hell to pay when customer problems crop up in their older applications written in the older languages and nobody on hand knows how to solve the problem. IBM and CA Technologies have labs where they are teaching younger engineers how to maintain the older code, but the resources are minimal compared to the millions of existing and still-running applications.

  5. Ira Pabst

    Companies have never counted our experience as a quantifiable asset. There is no understanding that our experiences have given us knowledge in three areas. The first is the knowledge of how to use specific software tools (i.e. Cobol, Assembler, Fortran) in developing applications that produce profit for our employers. The second is the knowledge of how to develope efficient and error free software. With the increase of experience comes an increase of efficient software and a reduction of error prone code. The third area of knowledge is the knowledge of how to design software which lends itself more easily to change. ALL of these are gained over years of experience. Companies that discount this experience, have created IT departments that produce software which is less open to change and more costly to maintain. Computer languages can be learned in classes, but learning how to build efficient and maintainable software can only come with years of experiencce.

  6. Richard Covington

    I was introduced to Dice about a decade ago when I became an A+ Certified Computer Technician. While I was in school studying for my A+ the market was booming for A+ Certified Computer Technicians. If one was experienced or not and earned their A+ you got a job. I worked in the field about 5 months when the small company I was working for went out of business. I was suddenly laid off without a severance pay. To make a long story short I was unable to utilize my A+ to obtain another job. Therefore my A+ benefits me more on a personal level than an occupational level.

    Since then I’ve obtained a national certification as a Medical Lab Technician which hasn’t benefited me due to poor leadership and discriminatory hiring practices demonstrated by lab managers. Lastly, I obtained a B.S. Degree in Health Science in April 2010, creating a student loan repayment obligation and no job in sight. Back in the day if one was lucky to obtain a college degree employers would recognize such as great ambition and hard work, would hire and train one. This is not the case with today’s employers.

    With the increase in stupid background checks/credit checks employers can easily detect one’s age and kick one to the curb. Age discrimination will continue to go undetected and is not on the agenda of current and former Washington Politicians. Pursuing a discrimination complaint with the EEOC is a waste of time due to their incompetent, careless, irresponsible intake/investigative staff. Job creation means nothing when you’re in your 40’s 50’s, not to mention skin color. Significant age discrimination enforcement has to come from the top brass in Washington which may never happen. I’m age 52, 25k student loan dept and jobless going on 3 years. I’m stuck down here in Miami where the Hispanics rule. Realizing that my college degree isn’t very marketable I signed up as a hvac pre-apprentice at a local union hall in Opalocka, Florida. 3 months later I got a call about a pre-apprentice position in Miami Beach. I accepted the position and was told to bring a $20 kickback fee and report to the union hall on the next morning. I reported promptly the next morning just to find that my job had been given to a younger Hispanic man. Living in the street with only foods stamps for income makes me want to bend my head between my legs and kiss my azz good bye.

  7. When I was laid off from my previous employer…I was told it was because the company’s needs had changed. I replied, “We are about to launch 4 new products in the next week and we just launched a 10 language website…but you don’t need a web designer? What do you need?”. Their reply, “Something different.”

    And he was…half my age and salary. Needless to say, they did not blink an eye when I asked for more in my severance pay. But their only comment was…”But you are so talented and marketable…”

  8. The young, female HR rep escorted me from an interview at the local, investor-owned utility. As we walked down the hall of founders and CEOs portraits, she said “And these are our old white males.” I didn’t get the project.

  9. At age 49 and after 30 months of being unemployed, and hundreds of rejections I am at the point where I want to say F them all!!!!! As I slide towards foreclosure of my home I cannot express the feelings of anger at having been tossed out like yesterday’s garbage. My previous employer outsourced my entire department – only after sending me on two trips to India to assess talent, train staff, write policy & procedure manuals and codify micromanaged instruction directions aka “dummy instructions”

    This country has begun it slide to the bottom. With none of our elected officials protecting the interests of America’s workers the destruction of our economic infrastructure is inevitable. Those that are a part of the “1%” can feel safe & secure, but for how long. The disintergration of our internal economic structure will lead to the destruction of our social structure. No matter how much money the “1%” has it will not spare them from the wrath of the other “99%”!!!!!!!

    • Sandy

      You are absolutely correct. The 1%, for being intelligent (based on their presumptions), do not seem to realize that when the 99% are down and out they will soon follow. 1% of the population cannot support this country, that is perfectly evident with the current state of our country. I for one will not cry a tear for them. They have created this mess let them suffer along with the rest

  10. Tim Sharpe

    It is said Rome fell from within.

    If law and culture can’t fix the problem, I shudder to think what will.

    It’s time for the older group to bunch together, organize, and re-tip the scales.

    No matter if your democrat or republican, during the next term, vote whoever is in…out. Nothing short of a total re-placement of the House and Senate will generate enough pressure to change this problem. Who do you think is paying for the re-elections? The CEO’s who laid you off. Make the vote count higher than the dollar. Clean House. I don’t think anything else will work.

  11. Why not discriminate at the ballot box and vote out all the politians over 40! Then they might get the message. That really is an old folks home! Maybe we should all transfer our skills to politics!

  12. Scarlett

    Wow…the barrage of unending horror stories makes my toes curl! I am on the other side of 40 and looking at completing Certification coursework at an accredited college. Perhaps it is not age but salary costs? Experienced employees sometimes come with high expensive and pre-honed, previously instilled skillsets and ideas. Could it be that employers are afraid of people set in their ways and unwilling to stay on an upwardly mobile path with the company or who they know may be looking toward comfortably settling in rather than taking risks? I definitely mean no disrespect but in several meetings with experienced developers, I have met several over 40, even 50 who paint a much brighter future for this generation of techies.

  13. castaway

    Maybe it’s time to demand equal opportunity for 45-65 year olds. Maybe we need affimative action for senior workers. Maybe we should be forcing hiring quotas. And make sure to break it down to quotas within each 3-year increment or 3 or 4 years above the lower limit of the enforced age group will be the new ‘unofficial’ retirement age. There’s plenty of whacked-out quota systems in place now and God forbid if you say anything’s wrong with that. Let’s get some honest trends going. Talk it up, contact your politicians and keep the pressure on…

  14. If a young person reads comments like these and realizes that he’ll be unemployable in the technology field by age 40, then he will be more likely to choose another field.

    Corporations officially deplore the lack of interest by young people in technology.

    They are remarkably silent about the fact that young people usually tallk to their parents and other elders before they choose a profession and that many of them will warn them away.

    A career that requires at least four years of study and has a built-in expiration date of 18 years (when the 22 year old graduate hits 40) is much less attractive than a career such as law or medicine or finance that has no such limitation.

    If you want smart people to work for you, then you need to make working for you a smart choice instead of a dumb choice.

    • I agree and disagree with what I think you’re saying. On the one hand, I do think age discrimination is real. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s more rampant in tech than it is in any other profession. And, as in any field, if you keep looking back to the skills you had when you started, and the dynamics the industry had when you started, you’re going to fall behind as the years go on. And that’s dangerous.

      Now, I’m not saying at all the people here have allowed themselves to fall behind. I’m speaking generally. But I’m jumping into this because of the first point you made, Nero: That young people could be discouraged from pursuing tech careers because they’ll think they’ll be obsolete by 40. That notion’s just not true. And, I know lots of parents who encourage their kids to go into tech.

      Companies want skills, and they want cultural fits. Sometimes, “cultural fit” means “young.” But a lot of times, it doesn’t. Instead it means not just understanding their business, but being immersed in it. It’s like understanding data tools and loving — just loving — DATA. Lots of people can build databases. But how many want to roll around in data all day?

      Medicine evolves — that’s why doctors read medical journals all the time. Physics evolves — that’s why physicists read papers and go to conferences all the time. Why isn’t it the same for us? We’ve got the same pressure on us to keep up and evolve as everyone else.

      My point is you can’t generalize about age discrimination. Like I said, it exists and it’s a huge problem and it keeps a lot of people from getting work. Maybe the lesson for young people is they need to understand early that they’re going to face it one day, and make plans to evolve so they’re ready to face it when the time comes.

      What do you think about that? Does that make sense?

      • James Green

        Mark I disagree with you doctors are paid very well to keep up on their education. IT professionals are laid off and replaced with cheap outsourced labor, it is a lot harder to outsource doctors.

  15. I had a terrible interview experience. I am 52 and was in the middle of this interview with three relatively young (early thirties) men. We were talking about my experience and I said that although I am certified in a current web technology, I had at one time done Assembly programming, The one young man said in a rather rude way. “Now you are showing your age!” I told him” if he couldn’t see my age on my face he was stupid.” I left the interview as I already had a job and I didn’t need to be insulted.

    • Real Men & Women Write ALC, Girly Men Drag & Drop and pretend to be programmers. If that was the sum total of my skillset, I wouldn’t have been kept around this long. Those johnny come lately cats won’t be around long either. Once their flavor of the month is out of favor, they are out the door. Databases like ADABAS & DB2, Languages like ALC, Natural & Cobol still run the wheels of World commerce in the 21st Century and much as some people would like to see that change, It’s not happening in our Lifetime. Granted the Real Estate funk has kept lots of people who used to be able to move around the country to seek an opportunity tuned to their skillset unemployed. I am planning on lining up Consulting jobs for when I retire, The World is gonna need us more than ever the next 20 years.

      • Tom; I TOTALLY AGREE!! This flavor of the month attitude in the technology sector is sickening. I also started in the mainframe (OS/MVS, JES 2, TSO, etc) world in the late 1980’s. and am now a downsized systems administrator who have had a tough time getting re-hired. Mainframes arenEither the salaries are insultingly low, or the new jobs require you to wear so many hats that it one time took an entire staff to run a group with what they want from me. In my book, any IT professional who has 20 + experience is a valuable asset in any company. Just my opinion.

  16. Let’s face it exploitation is goal number 1. Old timers, people with more than 5 yrs experience, are no longer valued. It’s all very short term exploitation oriented. Put out the fire, keep the lights on, keep costs down. There is no career development. It’s gone.

  17. A new source of age discrimination is the rising cost of health insurance… which has nothing to do with a candidate’s ability, cultural fit, or salary (although these are the common excuses given).

    For all the people who complain about the ‘evils’ of universal health care – this is one of the hidden dangers of privatized, profit-based medicine. The rates rise sharply at certain milestones (40, 50, 55, etc.), hence employers won’t touch anyone in this age group.

  18. Sandy

    I have a MBA that is doing me no good. I have been looking for a couple of years now. I have even resorted to applying for jobs I am way overqualified for that does not work either. I worked for a manager for McDonald’s for several years before getting my education. So I thought I would go back to that, the interviewer said “I have two concerns, 1 your experience may be intimidating to others and 2 nobody who works here is older than 31” I am 51, needless to say they never called me back even though I am quite qualified.

    • Richard Covington

      I’m so sorry to hear about your daunting employment application experience. I’m age 52 and have a B.S. Degree. I’ve had no luck obtaining college degree level employmnet. Since they like you to apply online I took my laptop to numerous McDonalds and applied online. I let the manager know that I just applied online and they always say that they would get back with me, notttttttttttt. I call and they claim to be too busy. I’ve been out of work since sept 09. I informed the manager that I don’t mind working for minimum wage. I know for sure that my age has a lot to do with their hiring decisions. Age discrimination has become an epidemic but change has to come from the top brass in Washington. The EEOC is a joke. Their intake & investigative procedures are set up so that the employer prevails. Trust me, I’ve pursued numerous age discrimination complaints with them to no avail.

  19. I watched a news programmer where one of the top guys at Google (can’t remember his name) was whining about how hard it was to find qualified people to work at Google. I nearly jumped through the screen when he said that knowing full well what he really means by qualified is someone under 30. Silicon Valley is full of intelligent and fully proficient developers, sys admins, DBAs etc who are unemployed or underemployed because they have the disease known as “40 plus.”

  20. Glen Smith

    As an older worker, I have come up against the exact opposite in terms of creativity. Most potential employers I deal with seem to want tool monkeys who just do the minimums well. Not people who actually know how things work, are not afraid to challenge often younger authority, have a better understanding of the business environment and show deep creativity.

  21. I may be running into an isseue with my age and experience. Not getting many calls from places to which I’ve applied.

    Time to trim the resume a bit and buzzword some youth into it.

  22. It’s a nightmare. I have worked at top companies for 20+ years, laid off several times and found a job but since the last one, I have not been able to get anywhere past a phone interview. I believe it’s because of searching on the Internet. They can see your age and then you are deleted by the prospective employer no matter your stellar background and skill set. Our private info should not be published on the Internet. I have tried to get petitions going about that but people want to remain nosey… Just wait until they have that 50th birthday!