In recent posts, we have discussed how social media use and the enforcement of social media policies can have major implications in wage and hour lawsuits against U.S. employers. Now, a recent case in U.S. District Court in California suggests that social media can also play a role in discrimination suits.
Plaintiff, a 61-year-old former employee of the defendant company, alleged he was harassed, and eventually terminated, based on his age, in violation of California law. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that he, and two other employees over the age of 50, were systematically demoted, had their salaries decreased, and were stripped of their authority within the company. Further, the company had continuously stated that it aimed to hire more “digital natives” (i.e., employees in their 20s and 30s who were more familiar with social media than their older counterparts).
Although the matter before the court was procedural in nature, the court briefly addressed the merits of plaintiff’s claim for age-based harassment. In short, the court found that the ongoing narrative within the company of the need to hire “digital natives”—in conjunction with the plaintiff’s demotions and pay-cuts—was sufficient to state a cause of action for harassment based on age under California law.
Whether or not a harassment claim with these facts will ultimately be successful remains still to be seen. Nevertheless, the case serves as yet another reminder of the importance of providing extensive training to all levels of employees on company policies against harassment based on age, and other protected classes of persons.