Ikea Accused of Systemic Bias Against Older Workers

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By Patrick Dorrian

The “Ikea way” is to favor younger workers over older ones when it comes to mentoring and promotions, a Pennsylvania-based employee of the furniture retailer alleges in a federal lawsuit.

The company for at least two years has systematically denied advancement opportunities to hourly retail workers age 40 and over because of their age, Frank Donofrio says in a complaint filed in federal court in Philadelphia Feb. 12. Donofrio is 54 years old and has “been an outstanding hourly retail ‘coworker’ with Ikea since 2011,” the complaint says. However, he hasn’t been promoted to the management level despite repeatedly expressing his interest in moving up the ranks, according to the complaint.

Donofrio is suing under federal age discrimination law on behalf of himself and a proposed class of all similarly situated older Ikea employees. This is the latest lawsuit challenging a major U.S. company’s alleged efforts to recruit recent college graduates, younger workers, or workers with only a limited amount of experience as a way to avoid hiring or promoting older workers. Other companies sued on this basis include R.J Reynolds Tobacco Co., Hewlett Packard Inc., PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Google Inc., Carefusion Corp., and Marriott International Inc.

Courts Divided

Whether protected-age job seekers can pursue lawsuits under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act without showing the alleged bias was intentional is a question on which federal courts are divided. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 declined to consider the issue in the lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds, leaving in place a holding by a federal appeals court in Atlanta that the ADEA doesn’t permit disparate impact or unintentional bias claims by job applicants. But a federal district court in California reached the opposite conclusion in the case against PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Donofrio’s complaint, which only alleges an ADEA disparate impact claim with regard to the development of employees for leadership opportunities, doesn’t seem to raise that question.

Ikea recruits younger workers expressly for management roles as “future leaders,” Donofrio says. A corporate culture of age discrimination taints Ikea’s employment decisions from the top down and is part of the company’s “business model,” he alleges.

“We cannot comment on this lawsuit as it currently is under litigation and would compromise our confidentiality regarding matters related to IKEA current and former co-workers,” Ikea Public Relations Manager Leticia Bradley told Bloomberg Law in a Feb. 13 email.

Console Mattiacci Law LLC represents Donofrio. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for Ikea.

The case is Donofrio v. IKEA US Retail, LLC, E.D. Pa., No. 2:18-cv-00599, class complaint filed 2/12/18.

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