PwC Accused of Age Bias in Hiring

SAN FRANCISCO — Global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is being accused of violating federal and California age discrimination laws by focusing on hiring and retaining “millennials.”

In a proposed class action filed Wednesday by lawyers at Outten & Golden, 53-year-old accountant Steve Rabin alleges that PwC hiring policies effectively bar applicants over 40 from landing entry-level positions at the company.

Rabin interviewed with PwC in San Jose, Calif., in 2013 but was turned down, and says the company hired a younger accountant instead. He is seeking to overturn PwC’s hiring policies, and demanding compensation, penalties and fees for himself and other similarly situated individuals.

The proposed class is nationwide and includes individuals over the age of 40 who applied for and were denied a job at PwC, as well as people in that age bracket who were deterred from applying at all, dating back to October 2013.

The complaint makes no estimate of how big that pool might be. But it notes that at the end of fiscal year 2015, PwC employed over 53,000 people in North America and the Caribbean. “Hundreds or thousands of potential class members have applied, attempted to apply, or been interested in applying to the covered positions during the relevant time period,” the suit states.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In addition to Outten & Golden, the suit is being supported by the AARP Foundation in Washington and The Liu Law Firm in San Francisco.

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“For PwC to advertise the youthfulness of its workforce is concerning. How would we feel about a company advertising how male-dominated or white its workforce was?” Outten & Golden partner Jahan Sagafi said in an email.

The skewed demographics are a direct result of PwC intentionally implementing policies and practices throughout the U.S. that are design to maintain a “youthful culture,” according to the complaint. Part of the way PwC does this is by controlling the pipeline of applicants, it says. People trying to apply for junior associate and associate positions with the firm must be active university students.

Other entry-level, non-management positions are posted online, but older applicants are also barred from those positions because of the company’s preference for younger hires, the complaint says. Rabin applied for a “Seasonal Experienced Associate” position in October 2013 at age 50.

When Rabin was interviewed, the complaint says, he was asked by a manager in his mid-30s: “The people in the cubicles are much younger than you. How would you fit in? Would you be able to work for a younger manager or director?”

Rabin assured the interviewer that he had worked for a younger manager in the past and enjoyed the experience, the complaint says. He was not given a reason for why he was turned down.

The complaint also takes aim at PwC’s policy of forced retirement at age 60, which it says deters older applicants from applying.

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Sagafi said the lawsuit aims to ensure that hiring is merit-based. “Age discrimination in entry-level positions can obstruct people’s freedom of choice to change directions mid-career or recover from shifts in the economy,” he said. “Here, we are trying to help workers who may want to reinvent themselves and go into a new field.”