Accounting and financial services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers’ alleged “aggressive pursuit of the young” is being challenged by a US class action brought by two older workers, who claim their applications were rejected as PwC focuses its hiring on recent college graduates.
The Wall Street Journal reports that named plaintiffs in the PwC case are two men – aged 53 and 47 respectively – whose applications for entry-level associate positions at the firm were unsuccessful. US federal law bars employers from discriminating against workers and job applicants who are 40 and older.
One of the men, Steve Rabin, is a certified public accountant who originally issued his lawsuit last April, claiming that he was turned down for an accounting job at PwC because of the group’s recruiting programmes.
Both have years of accounting and bookkeeping experience and claim they turned down because they lacked the youthful profile possessed by the typical PwC recruit. According to their lawsuit, filed in a San Francisco federal court to “attract and maintain ‘millennials,’ PwC intentionally screens out individuals ages 40 and older … and denies them employment opportunities”
Such favouritism toward millennials, the suit alleges, violates the US federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
The WSJ report notes the idea that company recruitment efforts aimed at students and recent graduates can be unlawful is a controversial premise that no US federal appeals court has ever endorsed.
It adds that courts have looked at the question more closely in the aftermath of the post-2008 financial crisis recession that saw many seasoned workers lose their jobs and toil to find new ones. Advocates for older Americans say age discrimination in hiring is driven by a common misperception that younger workers are more productive, creative, trainable and cheaper.
The complaint points to PwC recruitment brochures filled with images of fresh-faced 20-somethings and the firm’s estimate that 80% of its employees were born in 1980 or later. The suit also cites a Harvard Business Review article authored by a top PwC executive trumpeting the firm’s “strikingly young” workforce.
Business groups, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, say Congress wasn’t thinking about campus recruitment when it drafted the ADEA four decades ago. Permitting plaintiffs to bring these suits would threaten on-campus recruiting and “expose businesses to large collective action claims by virtue of mere statistics,” a Chamber court filing cautions.
The average age of a PwC worker in 2011 was 27, according to a report the group released that year, and two-thirds of its workers were in their 20s or early 30s. The median age of US accountants and auditors is 43, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.