A former top executive at Google Inc. who claims he was fired because he didn’t fit in with the Internet giant’s youthful culture took his case to the California Supreme Court in San Francisco today.
Brian Reid, 60, claims he was unfairly fired at age 54 in 2004 because of illegal age discrimination. He has testified he was told he was not a cultural fit with Google.
Reid’s lawyer, Paul Killion, told the court at a hearing this morning, “‘Not a cultural fit’ is a code word for being too old.”
But Paul Cane, a lawyer for Mountain View-based Google, told the justices, “Age has nothing to do with it.”
He said the Internet search company’s culture is based not on age, but on values such as being “work-intensive, do it the hard way, find a way to get better results.”
Cane said Reid was laid off after one year and 10 months with Google simply because a job he had been transferred to was eliminated.
Reid, a former Stanford University assistant professor who had worked in Silicon Valley, was hired at age 52 to be the then-startup company’s director of engineering and operations.
He was later transferred to what Killion called a dead-end job working on a small program for graduate students at Google.
Google is appealing a decision in which a state appeals court ruled that Reid could have a Santa Clara County Superior Court trial on his lawsuit.
The state high court, which is due to issue a ruling within three months, will not be deciding whether Reid was in fact discriminated against, but rather whether the case can to go to trial.
Chief Justice Ronald George asked whether the case can be considered discrimination since Reid was already in his 50s when he was hired.
Killion answered, “The evidence indicates he was hired in his 50s because Google was a young startup company and needed older workers to get capital funding.”
Much of the hour-long hearing centered on procedural issues, including the question of whether courts can consider so-called “stray remarks” made by co-workers who did not have authority over employment.
Reid contends that such remarks included co-workers’ comments that he was an “old fuddy-duddy.”
Killion argued that the remarks are relevant in Reid’s case because they illustrate the culture at Google.
Cane maintained that whether or not the remarks are considered, there is not enough evidence to justify allowing the lawsuit to proceed.