PwC Must Face Job Applicants’ Age Discrimination Claims

PricewaterhouseCoopers on Friday was denied a bid to have a disparate impact claim under federal age discrimination law thrown out in a putative class action over age discrimination toward job applicants, with a California federal judge ruling a reading of U.S. Supreme Court precedent confirms job applicants may bring such claims.

U.S. District Judge John S. Tigar denied a bid for judgment on the pleadings from PwC, which had argued that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act doesn’t permit job applicants to bring disparate impact claims. The judge wrote that a textual analysis of the Supreme Court’s precedents in Griggs v. Duke Power Co. and Smith v. City of Jackson, along with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s interpretation of the ADEA and the act’s legislative history, confirm that job applicants such as the plaintiffs may bring disparate impact claims.

“Rather than invent a new and more restrictive interpretation of section 4(a)(2), this court will follow the guidance of Smith and Griggs,” Judge Tigar said. “Those precedents support extending the right to make a disparate impact claim under the ADEA to ‘any individual’ who has been adversely affected ‘because of such individual’s age,’ regardless of whether she is an applicant or employee.”

The judge further said the history of the ADEA’s enactment revealed that Congress was concerned not just with age discrimination within the workplace, but also with barriers to older workers finding employment in the first place. In the act’s purpose statement, the judge said, Congress described how older workers find themselves disadvantaged in their efforts to regain employment when displaced from their jobs.

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Counsel for the plaintiffs had argued that the ADEA did include the term “any individual,” which could mean people who weren’t current employees, and also pointed to a definition in the federal labor code which included job applicants under the heading of “employees.”

The suit — filed by certified public accountant Steve Rabin — claimed the firm has a “stunningly low” number of older workers in entry-level and lower- to mid-level positions. It accuses PwC of violating federal and state laws, including the ADEA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Rabin, who was 53 when he filed the suit last April, has said that PwC mostly hires entry-level accountants through a campus recruiter, requiring them to be affiliated with a university. The firm allegedly doesn’t post entry-level accountant positions on its website and doesn’t offer a way for prospective applicants not affiliated with a college to apply for the jobs.
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Daniel B. Kohrman, an AARP Foundation Litigation attorney for Rabin, said he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“He started out by saying the statute is clear that the most natural reading of section 4(a)(2) of the ADEA permits applicants to file for an impact claim,” he told Law360. “AARP Foundation Litigation is involved with a number of cases where this question is at issue, and we think it’s a very important decision that Judge Tigar has rendered, and we think it’s spot-on.”

Rabin is represented by Adam T. KleinJahan C. Sagafi and Katrina Eiland of Outten & Golden LLP, Daniel B. Kohrman, Laurie A. McCann and Dara S. Smith of AARP Foundation Litigation and Jennifer Liu of the Liu Law Firm PC.

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The case is Steve Rabin et al. v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, case number 3:16-cv-02276, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.