Ex-employee alleges Google discriminates

A former Google employee is suing the search engine company alleging wrongful termination and discrimination on the basis of age and disability.

Brian Reid, of Palo Alto, California, was 52 when he joined Google in June 2002 as a director of operations. He was diagnosed with diabetes shortly after and claims he was subjected to discriminatory treatment, including complaints from executives that he was "lethargic" and "lacked energy," up until his employment was terminated early this year, according to his complaint, which was filed Tuesday in a California court.

Reid, who was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's California campus before joining Google, is seeking an undisclosed sum in damages. He has also asked the court to restore 119,000 options to buy Google shares at a strike price of $0.30, which were taken from him when he was fired, according to the complaint.

Google denies any wrongdoing and will fight the lawsuit, a company spokesman said. "We believe Mr. Reid's complaint is without merit and we will defend against it vigorously," he said, declining any further comment.

Reid alleges in the complaint that Google has "an unfair and illegal practice" to "screen out, refuse to hire, scrutinize more strictly, review more harshly, terminate and/or otherwise discriminate against workers age 40 or older."

The average age of male employees at Google is 29.7 years and the average age of female employees is 28.4, according to the complaint, filed in Superior Court for the State of California for the County of Santa Clara. Only 30, or less than 2 percent, of Google's 1,900 employees are over 40, the complaint states.

Reid claims that when he was fired in February it was without warning or notice. He was unsuccessful in obtaining another position at the company and claims that he was told he was "not 'compatible' with Google culture, which was one of youth and energy," according to the complaint.

Reid claims that though Google told him his position was eliminated, he was replaced by a much younger worker hired from outside of Google.

Reid is likely to have a difficult time with his age discrimination claim because he was hired only two years ago, said Alexandra Bodnar, an employment lawyer and partner at Squire Sanders & Dempsey, in Los Angeles, which is not involved with the case.

"It is not like they hired him as a young man and then fired him as an older man," she said. Reid may have a better chance with the disability part of his claim because of California's strict disability laws, but even there challenges remain, Bodnar said.

"Diabetes is a disability and he will need to prove that the firing decision was based on that protected characteristic and not a legitimate business reason such as his performance," she said.

Google has earned a reputation as a young and hip company. Employee perks include an in-house gym and on-site massage therapists. The company organizes weekly roller-hockey games and employees receive free rock-climbing passes for a nearby gym, according to the company's Web site.

In April, Google filed a registration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for an initial public offering (IPO). The offering could make millionaires out of many of Google's employees, especially those who joined the company early on.

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