Hewlett Packard Accused of Dumping Older Workers

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By Joyce E. Cutler

Aug. 23 — Hewlett Packard jettisoned older employees in an effort to transform itself from an “old” company into a “younger” operation, a putative class action against the Silicon Valley technology company alleged ( Forsyth v. HP Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 5:16-cv-04775, complaint filed 8/18/16 ).

Laid-off employees in their 50s and 60s accuse HP of violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and state laws in a series of workforce reductions starting in 2012 as the company split into two enterprises, with the stated goal of squeezing out older workers while hiring thousands of workers under age 40.

“Any excuse HP puts forth to justify its illegal age discrimination is a pretext,” the lawsuit filed Aug. 18 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said.

Hewlett-Packard Co. split into HP Inc., which sells personal computers and printers, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., which supplies businesses with high-end technology, both operating in Palo Alto, Calif.

HP CEO Meg Whitman openly stated that her goal was to change from a “labor diamond” into a “labor pyramid” or a “quite flat triangle” with large numbers of young people at its base, the lawsuit said.

Older workers were statistically more likely to be laid off under HP’s workforce reduction plans than were younger employees, the lawsuit said.

“We are aware of the claims, deny them and plan to defend against them,” an HP spokesman told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 23 e-mail.

HP laid off more than 33,000 workers when it split into the two enterprises.

Disparate Impact

Senior management gave specific numbers of employees to be permanently laid off, such as “master level scientists,” and simultaneously gave specific numbers of “new requisition orders,” calling for hiring college graduates or entry level employees, the lawsuit said.

HP’s written guidelines stated the new policy “requires 75 percent of all External hire requisitions be ‘Graduate’ or ‘Early Career’ employees,” the lawsuit said. Early career was defined as someone with up to five years’ experience related to the job being filled, and a graduate hire was someone who was about to graduate or graduated within the past 12 months.

Early phased retirement programs were used to push out older workers, and those who didn’t retire were laid off, the lawsuit said.

Older Employees ‘Slow and Steady,’ ‘Rule Breakers.’

HP in internal documents said anyone born between 1930 and 1946 “could be considered a `Traditionalist’ who moves `slow and steady’ and seeks ‘part time work.’ ” Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were considered “to be ‘rule breakers,’ implying that this was undesirable,” the lawsuit said. Hiring millennials was highly desirable, it said.

“HP’s decision to define and refer to entire segments of its employees as `slow and steady’ or `rule breakers’ based on the year in which those employees were born is not only callous, but is at the heart of the very type of discrimination that the ADEA and similar California laws were intended to prohibit. Furthermore, promoting such stereotypes only further exacerbates unjustified biases against large portions of HP’s workforce based entirely on age,” the lawsuit said.

The four plaintiffs, aged 52, 54, 62 and 63, seek to represent a national class of employees fired by HP in violation of the ADEA. A separate California class covers those HP employees terminated in California in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, California public policy and Calif. Bus. & Profs. Code Section 17200, the State Unfair Business Practices Act.

Jennie Lee Anderson of Andrus Anderson LLP in San Francisco, and Douglas Dehler and Paul Zimmer of O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman, DeJong & Laing S.C. in Milwaukee represent the plaintiffs. No attorney was listed on the docket for HP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at jcutler@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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