Silicon Valley Business Ethics Cases
Externalities of Age Discrimination Safeguards
Noah Rickling, Hackworth Business Ethics Fellow 2013
Lindsey worked as a top manager at a struggling technology company in Silicon Valley. As part of a company wide initiative, she had the task of downsizing her department by a considerable margin. Among the most troubling decisions involved eliminating a position within her department's most productive teams: eight people for seven jobs. As she considered each team members'; contributions and merits, there were two employees whose performance reviews were far behind the rest of the team.
Dianne was a 38-year-old woman, an employee at the company for 12 years, and an average performer. She worked hard and did a decent job overall, but failed to thrive at the company. She worked for a mediocre manager and Lindsey thought Diane's performance would improve if she worked for a more competent manager. Lindsey felt that Diane had more potential than Ron, but up until now it had not been realized.
Ron was a 42-year-old male with tenure and experience in the firm similar to Diane. Like Diane, he was an average performer but was not a rising star in the organization. He did not show as much potential as Dianne. However, because Ron was over 40, he was considered a member of a "protected class," giving him special protections against discrimination based on age. If Lindsey fired him, he could, and most certainly would, sue the company with a claim that he was being let go because of age discrimination.
Lindsey felt that Dianne was the slightly better candidate, given her potential to grow into a top contributor. On the other hand, eliminating Ron's position would expose the company to a lawsuit and the expenses associated with it, perhaps outweighing any benefit the company would gain by choosing Diane over Ron.
What should Lindsey do?