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Age Discrimination Suit Over Layoffs at HP Sent to Arbitration

A federal judge has granted Hewlett-Packard's request to arbitrate an age-bias suit filed over the company's massive layoffs, allegedly targeting older workers.

The proposed class action claims that the tens of thousands of job cuts HP has made since 2012 as part of its workforce reduction plan were designed to get rid of older workers, and that the company has since blatantly favored younger people in filling out its ranks.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. and HP Inc., which were formed after Hewlett-Packard split in two in 2015.

On Sept. 20, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila granted HP's request to compel arbitration on the basis of a release agreement signed by the plaintiffs. 

According to Davila's opinion, the release states that an arbitrator must determine whether the arbitration clause is enforceable.

"The court agrees with defendants that, under the terms of the RA, 'an arbitrator must first decide whether the release provision contained in the agreement is enforceable,'" Davila wrote. "Then, if the arbitrator determines that the release provision is enforceable, plaintiffs' claims will be barred and the collective action issue will be moot. Otherwise, the court will then determine whether plaintiffs' claims may proceed on a class or collective basis."

Benjamin Emmert of Littler Mendelson represents HP and did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did the plaintiffs' attorney, Leland Belew of Andrus Anderson.

HP slashed roughly 30,000 jobs in 2012 under CEO Meg Whitman, and has conducted smaller cuts since then. According to the complaint, workers over 40 were "significantly more likely" to have their jobs eliminated under the company's reduction plan.

The company has denied the bias claims, and last year, a representative for Hewlett Packard Enterprise said that age was not a consideration in the company's layoffs. "The decision to implement a workforce reduction is always difficult," the representative said in an emailed statement, "but we are confident that our decisions were based on legitimate factors unrelated to age."

According to the complaint, Whitman made no secret of her desire to overhaul the workforce with younger people, saying in a televised interview in 2015 that the company wanted "to make sure that we've got a labor pyramid with lots of young people coming in right out of college and graduate school and early in their careers."

In addition to the layoffs, the complaint says HP implemented early phased retirement programs in 2014 and 2015 for employees over 55 to incentivize them to voluntarily quit. It also reversed its policy of encouraging employees to work from home, putting a burden on workers with families who were located farther away from HP's offices, it alleges.

The two HP spinoffs also face an age and race discrimination lawsuit filed in July which claims the layoffs disproportionately affected older, black workers.

Contact the reporter at pdannunzio@alm.com.

Contributing Author

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P.J. D'Annunzio

P.J. D’Annunzio is a journalist with The Legal Intelligencer and Law.com and can be contacted at pdannunzio@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @PJDannunzioTLI.

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