* California top court clears way for trial against Google
* Plaintiff, in mid-50s, says was called "old fuddy-duddy"
* Ex-Stanford professor had helped develop AltaVista
* Google says plaintiff not fired because of age
(Adds Google comment, paragraph 5)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, Aug 5 Google Inc (GOOG.O), which runs
the world's most popular Internet search engine, was ordered to
defend itself against a lawsuit by a former manager who said he
was fired for being too old, clearing the way for a trial.
The California Supreme Court unanimously agreed that a
trial court erred in dismissing a complaint by Brian Reid, who
was hired in 2002 as a director of operations and engineering,
and fired less than two years later at age 54 after being told
he was not a good "cultural fit."
Thursday's ruling upheld a state appeals court decision
that the trial court erred in dismissing the lawsuit, and said
the trial court should have considered "stray remarks" from
Reid's colleagues, including that he was an "old man" and "old
fuddy-duddy," that might be seen as evidence of bias.
The ruling means the case returns to the trial court.
"Brian Reid was not laid off based on his age," said Andrew
Pederson, a spokesman for Mountain View, California-based
Google, in an emailed statement. "We look forward to
demonstrating in court the legitimate, nondiscriminatory
reasons why Mr. Reid was let go."
Paul Killion, a lawyer for Reid, did not immediately return
a call seeking comment.
Reid is a former associate professor of electrical
engineering at Stanford University who had helped develop the
AltaVista search engine.
He had alleged that while at Google, he was subjected to
put-downs by a 38-year-old vice president who told him his
ideas were "obsolete" and "too old to matter," and that he was
"slow," "fuzzy," "sluggish" and "lethargic."
The plaintiff also said other colleagues made fun of his
age, including a joke that a CD jewel case used as his office
placard should instead be an "LP," court records show.
The issue for the Supreme Court was whether to apply in
California employment bias cases a federal court doctrine under
which courts ignore "stray remarks" by non-decisionmaking
co-workers or by supervisors outside the decisional process.
That term had been coined in a 1989 concurring opinion by
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Writing for the California Supreme Court, Justice Ming Chin
said there is much disagreement on how to apply the stray
remarks doctrine, and that it is better instead to consider
such remarks in the context of other facts in a case.
In this case, he said this included statistical evidence of
bias at Google, and changing rationales for Reid's firing after
a performance review that said he "consistently met
He said this evidence also included emails between Chief
Executive Eric Schmidt and Wayne Rosing, who hired Reid, on a
proposal on "getting Reid out," as well as an email from Rosing
to Google co-founder Sergey Brin about the the hunt for "a
senior Director (note I did not capitalize Sr.) or VP level
person to run this operation."
"The Court of Appeal properly considered evidence of
alleged discriminatory comments made by decision makers and
co-workers along with all other evidence in the record," Chin
wrote in his 44-page ruling.
The case is Reid v. Google Inc, California Supreme Court,
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel. Editing by Robert MacMillan,
Gary Hill and Tim Dobbyn)