Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

San Francisco — Google failed to block a class-action lawsuit by rejected job applicants who accuse the search engine giant of systematically favouring younger candidates.

US district judge Beth Labson Freeman in California, issued a ruling on Wednesday throwing out the internet search giant’s request to deny group status to as many as 265 people 40 years and older who sought to join the case. The judge said her decision will remain sealed for now because it contains "highly confidential and business-sensitive information", while directing both sides to advise her what language should be redacted so that the ruling can be made public.

The case is spearheaded by a woman engineer who was interviewed by Google four times from 2007 to 2014, starting when she was 47. She claims that because of her age, she was never offered employment despite having "highly pertinent qualifications and programming experience".

Cheryl Fillekes alleged that Google’s hiring process — even if it appeared neutral — resulted in a "practice and pattern" of discrimination against older applicants. It did this in various ways, including by emphasising abstract, theoretical interview questions in line with current college engineering curriculums and placing an emphasis on "Googleyness" and cultural fit, thereby promulgating its youthful demographic, according to the complaint, which put the median age of Google employees at 29.

Freeman allowed the woman’s lawyers in 2016 to solicit other job-seekers who claimed to have been denied employment because of age. After evaluating the rejected applicants’ claims, Google argued there are too many variations among their allegations for the case to hold together as a class action.

The company said that when its lawyers questioned dozens of job seekers who sought to join the case, some said they performed well on the company’s technical engineering test and didn’t criticise it, unlike Fillekes. Google also said "some plaintiffs who interviewed multiple times performed better after age 40 than when under age 40."