PricewaterhouseCoopers Hit With Age-Based Class Action

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By Patrick Dorrian

April 27 — PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP discriminates against workers age 40 and older in filling entry-level accountant and auditor positions, according to a class action filed in federal court in San Francisco.

The company's “pattern or practice” of age-based discrimination includes use of a campus-track recruitment tool that can only be accessed by applicants with a current college affiliation, the April 27 class complaint asserts. It includes claims under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has intentionally implemented the biased campus recruitment tool and other companywide policies and practices throughout its offices in the U.S. “in order to maintain its youthful culture,” the lawsuit alleges.

The company “prides itself on attracting and retaining young workers” and it commissioned in 2013 “the largest, most comprehensive global generational study ever conducted of Millennial employees and how to retain them,” according to the complaint.

Approximately 80 percent of the firm's total workforce are millennials, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by lead plaintiff Steve Rabin on behalf of a proposed class.

PricewaterhouseCoopers generally doesn't post entry-level accountant openings on its website, as it does with other positions, and instead relies almost exclusively on its biased campus recruitment tool, the complaint asserts.

The other policies and practices that tend to screen out or deter protected-age applicants include a mandatory retirement age of 60 for partners, the complaint alleges.

The case has been assigned to Judge Jon S. Tigar.

Company Denies Allegations

In an April 27 statement a PricewaterhouseCoopers spokesperson denied the lawsuit's allegations.

“The claim is false,” the statement said. “PwC's hiring practices offer equal opportunity to all applicants, and the firm devotes enormous resources to recruiting a diverse workforce. Like most employers, PwC recruits at the nation's colleges and universities and the firm hires individuals at all experience levels and across the age spectrum.”

Class counsel Jahan C. Sagafi of Outten & Golden LLP in San Francisco told Bloomberg BNA April 27 that the lawsuit seeks more than just monetary relief on behalf of the affected workers who were rejected by PricewaterhouseCoopers or deterred from applying for jobs at the company.

In addition, the class seeks to put an end to the company's discriminatory policies and practices, the complaint states.

“The beauty of a discrimination class action is that it can be a win-win in that removing biased and unlawful barriers from the decision making process can create huge benefits for the company as it welcomes talented individuals it had missed out on before,” Sagafi said.

Class Size Not Yet Known

Rabin sued PricewaterhouseCoopers on behalf of himself and a class of similarly situated applicants 40 years of age or older who have been denied employment with the firm.

According to an April 27 statement issued by Outten & Golden announcing the lawsuit, Rabin is a 53-year-old who became a certified public accountant after going back to school following 15 years of technical work in the computer industry. He has worked at several small accounting and audit firms and has been a public company controller.

The inability of Rabin and other older entry-level accountants and auditors to secure employment with PricewaterhouseCoopers based only on their age has had and will have continual repercussions for them throughout their careers, the lawsuit asserts.

The complaint says that's because many jobs in the accounting field require applicants to have previous experience at PricewaterhouseCoopers or one of the other Big 4 accounting firms. So “accountants ages 40 and older are shut out of future business opportunities and professional growth as a result of [PricewaterhouseCoopers’s] discriminatory policies,” it says.

Statistics bear out the age-based impacts of PricewaterhouseCoopers's discriminatory entry-level hiring policies and practices, the complaint asserts.

In its 2011 U.S. Corporate Responsibility Summary Report, the firm “boasted that the average age of its workforce was 27,” and 75 percent of its workforce reported that working for PricewaterhouseCoopers “was their first job out of college,” the complaint alleges.

By contrast, the median age of accountants and auditors in the U.S. is 43.2, according to 2013 Labor Force Statistics compiled by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the complaint says.

Katrina L. Eiland and Julia Rabinovich in San Francisco and Adam T. Klein in New York, all of Outten & Golden; Daniel Kohrman, Laurie McCann and Dara Smith of AARP Litigation Foundation in Washington; and Jennifer L. Liu of Liu Law Firm P.C. in San Francisco also represent the proposed class.

No attorney has entered an appearance yet for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

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

For More Information

Text of the complaint is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Rabin_v_PricewaterhouseCoopers_LLP_Docket_No_316cv02276_ND_Cal_Ap.