San Diego Lawsuit alleges age discrimination at Hewlett-Packard

A San Diego Lawsuit alleges age discrimination at Hewlett-Packard is among a growing number of age-discrimination complaints against tech giant Hewlett-Packard.

Bryant Fonseca, 55, sued in San Diego Superior Court, seeking class-action status, according to court records. A spokeswoman for the Palo Alto-based company said by email on Tuesday that Hewlett-Packard does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Fonseca, who was a Hewlett-Packard employee of nearly four decades, claims the tech company ended his employment at its Rancho Bernardo location in May as part of a 2012 workforce reduction plan that targeted older workers, according to the lawsuit. Fonseca has been working as a research and development buyer.

Early last month, Fonseca filed a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, records show. The agency granted him the right to sue, a required step in the process.

The department has received at least 32 age-discrimination complaints against Hewlett-Packard since July 1, 2012, according to a U-T Watchdog review of state records. Of those, seven were attributed to the company’s San Diego location.

Twenty-four of the 32 complaints received the department’s permission to sue, records showed. Seven were dismissed or withdrawn and one was closed because it was outside the department’s jurisdiction.

Last year, USA Today reviewed complaints to California state officials about age discrimination at 12 leading tech companies since 2012. The newspaper ranked Hewlett-Packard ranked first. The second company on the list was Cisco Systems, with 11 complaints.

The company has denied that it targeted older workers for layoffs, saying its selection process is neutral.

As of October 2015, the company had laid off 2,076 California-based workers under the reduction plan, the lawsuit said. Of those, 1,765 — 85 percent — were at least 40 years old, a protected class of worker under California employment discrimination laws, the lawsuit says.

Early this year, Hewlett-Packard set forth a “diversity mandate” for certain outside hiring, but age was not included in the criteria required by the mandate, according to the lawsuit.

In another lawsuit against HP last year, plaintiff Don Delaney, then 70, of Scripps Ranch, eventually dropped out of the case and reached a confidential settlement with the tech company.

Hewlett-Packard did not admit to any of Delaney’s allegations, court records show. The company said in court filings that it took reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and said all employment actions were legitimate, non-discriminatory business decisions.

The company went on to say that Delaney “was not serving in productive capacity at the time of separation, despite his receipt of full compensation,” according to court records.

One of Delaney’s attorneys, Jeffrey Hogue of the San Diego-based law firm Hogue & Belong, also represents other former Hewlett-Packard workers claiming age-discrimination, including Fonseca, the employee who sued the tech giant Nov. 29.

Some of the age-discrimination lawsuits filed against Hewlett-Packard in state courts have been moved into arbitration, legal proceedings in which records are not public.

According to Fonseca’s lawsuit, Fonseca had excellent performance reviews while he worked at Hewlett-Packard. When Fonseca’s position was eliminated in May, he was the oldest employee in his working group, the lawsuit said. Employees who were older than he had already lost their jobs under the workforce reduction plan.

Fonseca has had trouble finding other work since he lost his job at Hewlett-Packard, and unemployment has been hard on his family, according to the lawsuit.

“As a result of his unlawful termination, Mr. Fonseca has had to resort to government assisted welfare and food stamps in order to support his family and their three foster children,” the lawsuit said. “Mr. Fonseca’s foster children have lost their medical care providers as well because his family was kicked off HP’s health insurance plan.”

Allegations in Fonseca’s lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard companies include age discrimination, wrongful termination in violation of public policy and unfair competition, according to the lawsuit. It asks the court to allow the case to be certified as class action, to award Fonseca back pay and other damages, to prevent HP from a workforce reduction that discriminates based on age and to order HP to pay Fonseca’s attorney’s fees and costs.

The lawsuit adds to a growing body of litigation alleging age discrimination at tech companies throughout the country. Google and Facebook both settled age discrimination lawsuits in the past three years.

Various tech companies have been called out by critics and in the media for posting job advertisements specifically recruiting exclusively for “new grads.” The ads didn’t specify age, but critics and employment authorities have said job ads may be illegal discrimination if they contain subtle language discouraging older workers or disproportionately ruling them out of being hired.

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