Posted on September 26, 2010 in Labor and Employment
John Carpenter knows what it’s like to be an old man in Silicon Valley.
Old. As in over 50.
When he was laid off from Intel in summer 2006, along with hundreds of other managers, he couldn’t think of a logical reason he’d been selected. Except for one: He was a 53-year-old man with a salary bigger than recent hires and handsome benefits that were costing the company more by the year.
"I ran into my next-door cube mate and he said the same thing happened to him," says Carpenter, 57, a 27-year Intel employee who helped manage a Santa Clara chip plant. "He was over 50 with more than 20 years with the company. I found three or four other people who got the same treatment. They were all long-term employees, all over 50 years old."
In the shock and bewilderment of the layoff, which some Intel employees dubbed "The 1,000 Manager March," Carpenter reached a crushing conclusion: His number was up because his age was up there.
And now, four years later, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says it agrees. It sent Carpenter — and dozens of other laid-off Intel managers who filed complaints — a finding saying its investigation concluded that there is "reasonable cause" to believe that the workers were selected because they were old.
Intel insists that the managers were laid off based on performance and that the company was in the midst of a massive restructuring in which it cut its work force from 103,300 to 91,800 in a year. The ruling requires Intel, the EEOC and the workers to try to negotiate a settlement that will satisfy those who were laid off. If those talks fail, workers or the EEOC itself could sue Intel.
"We certainly plan to conduct a defense across the board on all those claims," Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy says. He says 46 former managers in California, Arizona and Oregon have rulings like Carpenter’s. The EEOC is barred by law from commenting on its rulings and investigations.
Carpenter’s story touches on one of Silicon Valley’s dirty secrets. Along with the valley’s powerful wave of youth culture comes a dark undercurrent of prejudice against older workers. We’re surrounded by the legends of the 20-something Google guys, the Facebook phenoms and the young Yahoos who made a fortune. This is a place that is all about "in with the new and out with the old."
Talk to many 50-year-olds, or even 45-year-olds, looking for a job and you’ll hear the stories of being "overqualified" or "not a good fit" or stories of never hearing back from hiring managers at all.
Such complaints are often swept aside as whining, in part because age discrimination is notoriously hard to prove. Most age-discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC end with a finding that they are unfounded. Only 3 percent of complaints last year resulted in the kind of ruling Carpenter received. Who stays and who goes in a layoff is often based on a highly subjective checklist. And, of course, there are cases, probably most cases, in which people in their 40s and 50s are cut loose for valid reasons.
Which is no consolation to those who have worked hard and dedicated themselves to a company only to be given the message that they have outlived their usefulness.
"I was the most pro-Intel guy you ever met," says Carpenter, who lives in San Carlos.
He went to work for Intel when the world’s largest chipmaker was 10 years old. It was his first serious job out of college. He won his share of employee achievement awards. He became the guy to give tours of the Santa Clara semiconductor fab to visiting politicians, CEOs, celebrities and dignitaries.
When his boss called him into his office to tell him to pack up and leave, he cut loose a company man who’d stuck with Intel as it struggled to find its way in the 1980s, a guy who served as an ambassador for the brand and a manager who was wearing three hats — microcontamination manager, safety manager and emergency response team manager — at the time of his dismissal.
"The plant runs seven days a week, 24 hours a day," Carpenter says. "You never know when something is going to happen; and it always does at weird hours.”
Carpenter’s meeting with Intel and the EEOC has not been set yet, but when it is he will ask the company to admit it "did a crummy thing." And yes, he will ask for money, though he hasn’t settled on a figure. And what about a job? (He hasn’t found a permanent one yet.) Would he work for Intel again?
"I kind of hate to say yes," Carpenter says. But it’s the truth. "I probably would because I was an Intel guy. I really enjoyed working for the company."
It’s the kind of loyalty that comes with time. And the kind that should be highly valued.
San Jose Discrimination Lawyers
If you have been discriminated against because of your age you may need to speak with a San Jose employment lawyer. The San Jose lawyers at Bohn & Bohn, LLP are experienced in handling these types of matters and can help you determine whether or not you may be entitled to compensation. Call now for a free consultation. (800) 573-4222.
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