Reid v. Google, Inc., 50 Cal. 4th 512 (2010)

Brian Reid worked as Google’s director of operations and director of engineering for fewer than two years before he was terminated due to job elimination and poor performance. Reid, who was 52 years old at the time of his hire, reported to Wayne Rosing (age 55) and at times to Urs Hölzle (age 38), though he regularly interacted with other high-level employees of the company, including some who were in their late 20’s. Reid alleged that Hölzle and other employees made derogatory age-related remarks to him, saying that his ideas were “obsolete” and “too old to matter,” that he was “slow,” “fuzzy,” “sluggish,” and “lethargic” and that he did not “display a sense of urgency.” Other co-workers allegedly called Reid an “old man” and “old guy,” an “old fuddy-duddy,” told him his knowledge was “ancient” and joked that Reid’s CD jewel case office placard should be an “LP” instead of a “CD.” When Reid was informed no other positions were available for him at Google, he was told he was not a “cultural fit” at the company.

Although the trial court granted Google’s motion for summary judgment, the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that Reid had raised a triable issue of material fact as to whether the stated reason for his termination was pretextual. The California Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal, holding that the ageist remarks were not irrelevant even though they were made by non-decision makers outside the context of the decisional process. In so ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the “stray remarks” doctrine’s “categorical exclusion of evidence” and determined that the court of appeal was correct in considering such evidence and in reversing the summary judgment. The Supreme Court also decided that Google’s evidentiary objections were preserved for appeal even though the trial court judge did not expressly rule on them. Compare Reeves v. MV Transp., Inc., 186 Cal. App. 4th 666 (2010) (summary judgment properly granted to employer that rejected older applicant for staff attorney position who did not have clearly superior credentials).