- By discriminating against its older employees and harboring a "corporate culture of age bias," IKEA routinely violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), alleged 48-year-old IKEA employee Brandon Paine in a class action lawsuit (Paine v. IKEA Holding US, Inc. et al., No. 19-cv-00723 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 21, 2019)). Since February 2018, at least five current and former employees filed lawsuits against IKEA alleging age discrimination.
- IKEA promoted four young employees — all in their late 20s — for a position it previously denied Paine, even though the company had him fill the position on an interim basis, the complaint said. IKEA also allegedly demoted Paine several months later, decreasing his compensation by $10 per hour as part of "a realignment of job functions and duties." This came as part of a move by IKEA to "favor younger employees over older employees by offering younger employees better jobs with higher pay," Paine said.
- Despite receiving good performance reviews, IKEA rejected Paine for promotions because of his age, he said. When Paine asked an IKEA manager why he was passed over for another promotion, she told him that the role he applied for was new and required an external candidate who could come up with "new and innovative ideas."
Citing the four other lawsuits alleging age discrimination filed in the last year, Paine said IKEA has systematically discriminated against older workers on the basis of age. The fact-specific questions raised by these lawsuits remain unanswered for the time being, but the allegations they make offer reminders to employers looking to avoid litigation.
Employers need to proceed with caution when planning layoffs, distributing promotions or carrying out any staff reorganization, Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn and Dial Partner Matt Gomes previously told HR Dive in an interview. "Older employees generally, because they've been in the company longer, tend to be more senior, more highly paid. Seniority is a legitimate, bona fide justification for wage difference in the same job," Gomes said.
But when leaders choose to lay off those making the most money, they may be setting themselves up for an age discrimination claim, Gomes said. To avoid accusations of age discrimination following any employment decision, layoffs or otherwise, it's important that HR document everything from job interviews to performance reviews to the resulting decision.
Employers need to monitor their language, too, Gomes and Morgan Lewis Partner Melissa Rodriguez said. Managers, supervisors and leaders may use phrases and adages that, outside of the workplace, would raise no suspicion of age discrimination. But when someone uses an age stereotype to describe an ideal candidate — or the type of applicant who'd be denied — it can signal bias, they said.