- PwC has agreed to pay $11.6 million and change its recruiting practices to settle a claim that its targeting of recent college grads amounted to age discrimination, the parties said in a proposed agreement (Rabin, et al. v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, No. 16-cv-02276 (N.D. Calif. March 3, 2020)).
- A group of applicants age 40 and older sued in 2016, alleging that PwC discriminated against older applicants by focusing certain recruiting efforts on college campuses and school-affiliated job sites, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). A judge granted the suit collective action status in 2019.
- In addition to the monetary settlement that roughly 5,000 applicants will share, the company said it will advertise job opportunities to older workers; allow alumni to apply for on-campus openings; and refrain from asking, pre-offer, for graduation date or maintaining eligibility limits based on graduation year or age. In a press statement, the company denied having engaged in any unlawful discrimination and said "the commitments in this settlement will help PwC remain one of the most sought-after employers in the country."
The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against employees age 40 and older but its application to job applicants remains unsettled.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year declined to decide whether the law’s disparate impact protections apply to external applicants, leaving intact a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. An attorney had unsuccessfully applied for an opening that requested a maximum of seven years' experience and, in an en banc decision, the court held that the ADEA's disparate impact protections didn’t apply.
That ruling, however, applies in a limited number of states and lawmakers and enforcement officials have in recent years moved to root out age discrimination at work, which some say remains employment’s "open secret." The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently identified the issue as a strategic enforcement priority and the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting Older Workers Against Age Discrimination Act earlier this year. The bill would void Supreme Court precedent requiring a plaintiff to prove that age was the "but-for" cause of a challenged adverse employment action.
Regardless of the outcome of these and other issues, experts recommend that employers take steps to avoid ageism in hiring and other processes. For example, phrases like "digital native" should not appear in job listings, experts say, and openings should be shared in a variety of ways — not only on college campuses and social media, for example.