Learn more about our legal practice areas by viewing recent legal articles provided by members of our firm.
Court Rules “Stray Remarks” Admissible in Age Discrimination Lawsuit against Google
When Brian Reid joined Google in 2002 as director of operations and director of engineering, his hiring led to improvements and innovations, including Google's first firewall. However, just two years later Reid was fired. Google says Reid was let go because he was transferred to another department that was eventually phased out. Reid, 54, disagreed and filed a lawsuit claiming he was fired because of his age.
Superior Court of Santa Clara County dismissed the suit. However, the Court of Appeals reversed and claimed that "stray remarks doctrine" was inapplicable in this case. They concluded that the jury should have heard the stray remarks-statements made by Reid's superiors calling him "obsolete." Google petitioned for a review of the Court of Appeal's decision and the California Supreme Court granted review.
In 1989, Justice O'Conner held in Price Waterhouse v Hopkins, that stray remarks-"statements by nondecisionmakers, or statements by decision-makers unrelated to the decisional process itself"-do not show direct evidence that a decision-maker acted illegally when reaching an employment decision and thus should not be admissible under stray remarks doctrine.
The California Supreme Court, however, concluded in Reid's case against Google that stray remarks doctrine was inapplicable and that Reid should be entitled to a full trial. Agreeing with the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court ruled that such derogatory stray remarks made by decision-makers or co-workers can properly be considered evidence of discrimination and that, in fact, excluding such stray remarks might lead to unfair results for a plaintiff in court.
This highly publicized decision has forced employers to take note. Many hope that employers will implement lawful practices that ensure their employees and management do not engage in derogatory remarks relating to age or any other protected category.