A former WeWork Cos. employee has filed a lawsuit against the New York-based coworking company claiming that it hired a younger man to assume his responsibilities and terminated him after he complained about age discrmination to human resources. While it is unclear whether the aggrieved employee has a valid claim, this case highlights the growing problem of age discrimination in the workplace.
The plaintiff, a former WeWork vice president, claimed the company discriminated against him because of his age (62) after he was hired to head construction for the West Coast. He began working with WeWork in 2018 after the construction company he previously worked for was acquired by WeWork — the company leases buildings on a long-term basis and then redesigns the interiors for flexible use by startups, entrepreneurs and independent contractors.
To take on this new role, he moved from New York to San Francisco and shortly thereafter, WeWork hired a man for the same role who was 20 years younger than the plaintiff. By January of 2019, the plaintiff started reporting to the new worker and was no longer participating in meetings. The plaintiff complained to human resources in February saying that he believed he was being discriminated against due to his age.
In April, he was told his position was being eliminated less than a month before he would have been eligible for stock options. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superio Court, also claims he was retaliated against for complaining about discrimination. Whether the plaintiff’s claim will proceed to trial or be settled through arbitration remains to be seen.
While proving age discrimination is difficult, some examples include:
- Hiring another candidate only because he or she is younger
- Layoffs that disproportionately affect older employees
- Failing to provide training, education or other benefits to older workers
- Refusing to hire workers who appear older than a certain age
- Forcing an older worker to retire
To have a valid claim, an employee or job applicant must be able to show that (1) he or she was affected by an adverse employment action, and (2) the employer took the action because of that person’s age. Proving that the adverse action was based on age, rather than some other factor, can be difficult — age discrimination is often very subtle and employers have a lot of discretion to make employment decisions.
On the other hand, an employment practice that negatively impacts employees or applicants age 40 or older may be unlawful if it is not based on a reasonable factor other than age. If you believe you have been subjected to age discrmination by your employer, you should consult the experienced employment law attorneys at Lipsky Lowe, LLP.