A long-running age discrimination lawsuit filed against Google will head to trial following a ruling by the California Supreme Court Thursday.
Brian Reid, a former Google employee who sued the company in 2004 over what he claimed was an age-related dismissal from the company, convinced the California Supreme Court that a doctrine known as "stray remarks" should not apply to his case, affirming a ruling by an appeals court. Reid has argued that Google executives forced him out of the company just before it went public because he was thought to be too old to fit into Google's culture, citing deprecating remarks by current senior vice president for operations and Google Fellow Urs Hölzle and other co-workers.
Some court rulings have held that such comments can be considered "stray remarks" and irrelevant to the case if they were made by people who didn't have a direct hand in the employee's dismissal. But the court ruled that such statements can be considered in determining whether the employee was subject to a hostile environment.
"Strict application of the stray remarks doctrine, as urged by Google, would result in a court's categorical exclusion of evidence even if the evidence was relevant. An age-based remark not made directly in the context of an employment decision or uttered by a non-decision-maker may be relevant, circumstantial evidence of discrimination," the court wrote in its ruling.
The ruling could allow more age-discrimination cases to go to trial in California. "As a practical result, employers will win fewer age cases on summary judgment," said Eric Steinert, an employment lawyer at Seyfarth Shaw, in a statement following the court's decision. And it could expose employers to more damage from comments made by its employees: "If you have a blockhead in the workplace who makes an offensive comment, that can now possibly get pinned on the whole organization," Anthony Oncidi, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose, told The Wall Street Journal.
A copy of the court's ruling is below: