'Old fuddy-duddy' can continue age discrimination suit against Google

California appeals court says jury should be permitted to hear evidence in three-year-old age discrimination lawsuit brought by Internet legend Brian Reid.

A tech industry legend who claims Google fired him because he was too old to fit into the company "culture" has just won another shot at making his case in court.

A California state appeals court in San Jose on Thursday threw out a lower court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Internet pioneer Brian Reid. He's best known for helping to create the first firewall, the pioneering AltaVista Internet search engine and the alt.* hierarchy of newsgroups in Usenet.

Reid, who was 54 when he filed his lawsuit in 2004, came to Google as its director of operations and director of engineering in June 2002. He was ultimately fired in February 2004, when he was told by his supervisor that he was not a "cultural fit," according to court filings. For those keeping score, that was not long before Google announced its initial public offering, which Reid's attorneys argued deprived him of millions of dollars in potential stock earnings.

According to court papers, Reid's Google colleagues frequently to him as "old man," "old guy," and "old fuddy-duddy" during his time with the search giant. His boss, then 38-year-old Urs Hoelzle, also made age-related remarks about his performance every few weeks, dismissed his opinions and ideas as "obsolete" and "too old to matter," and called him "fuzzy," "lethargic," and other energy-lacking descriptors, the court filings said. Google, for its part, argued it let Reid go because it eliminated the department, an in-house graduate degree program, to which he had recently been reassigned.

The appeals court said a jury should have been allowed to consider a number of pieces of evidence that Reid presented in support of his case. In addition to the "ageist" comments Reid cited, he also commissioned a statistical analysis, which found younger Google employees typically received better performance ratings and higher bonuses. (Click here for a PDF of the court's opinion.)

Google spokesman Jon Murchison said the company doesn't comment on ongoing litigation, "but as our court filings have stated, we believe this complaint to be unfounded and will vigorously defend against it."

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    Anne Broache
    covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
     

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