The Olds vs. PwC: Age Discrimination Case Can Proceed as a Collective Action

It’s been a while since we’ve had an update on Rabin v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the age discrimination lawsuit accusing PwC of favoring younger workers over individuals over the age of 40 for entry-level positions within the firm. Well, we’re happy to tell you we have a little bit of news, courtesy of Law.com:

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar of the Northern District of California granted plaintiffs’ motion for conditional collective action certification to pursue their federal age-discrimination claims [March 28], although his ruling remains temporarily under seal.

The last time we reported on this case, back on July 30, 2018, Tigar had just rejected class-action status to a group of up to 14,000 older job applicants because the plaintiffs’ attorneys “failed to prove how the proposed class members were similarly situated.”

The age discrimination lawsuit, which was filed in April 2016 by CPA Steve Rabin, claims that PwC’s practice of campus recruiting to fill staff positions puts more seasoned workers at a disadvantage. Rabin said he interviewed for an accounting job with PwC in 2013 when he was 50 years old but was turned down in favor of a younger accountant.

Co-plaintiff John Chapman also applied “numerous times” for a PwC position while he was between the ages of 45 and 48 but was never hired.

According to the lawsuit, the two men “seek to certify a collective of all individuals aged 40 and older who, from October 18, 2013 forward, applied or attempted to apply but were not hired for a full-time covered position (associate, experienced associate, and senior associate) in the tax or assurance lines of service.”

However, Tigar said in his ruling last year that Rabin and Chapman “are not similarly situated to potential class members who were deterred from applying, because they did apply. In fact, plaintiffs do not identify any individual deterred from applying who was over forty.”

Tigar continued:

PwC argues that under Plaintiffs’ broad proposed class, “unqualified applicants … are not similarly situated to Chapman and Rabin, who allege they were qualified for the positions to which they applied,” and received an interview. Plaintiffs do not dispute that their proposed collective includes unqualified applicants.

As to this point, PwC’s arguments are more persuasive. The difference between Rabin and Chapman on the one hand, and facially unqualified applicants on the other, prevents the Court from conditionally certifying the class.

Attorneys representing PwC said the plaintiffs’ claims are false—the firm’s hiring practices are merit-based and “have nothing to do with age.” And they added PwC is a sought-after employer that hires fewer than 5% of applicants.

HOWEVER! Tigar said the plaintiffs had “adequately shown a uniform decision, policy, or plan on the basis of PwC’s centralized and uniform hiring policies, and the substantial evidence of age disparities in hiring.” The judge told Rabin and Chapman to go back to the drawing board and “propose a class to which they are similarly situated, and defendants can defend against that proposed class.”

Well, I guess that’s exactly what happened, although to what extent isn’t known because the judge’s ruling remains sealed.

Jahan Sagafi of Outten & Golden, who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told Law.com, “We’re certainly pleased with the decision and we look forward to moving ahead in the litigation.”

Emily Nicklin of Chicago-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis, who is representing PwC in the lawsuit, declined to comment, citing the sealed decision, according to Law.com. But if she had commented, I’m sure Nicklin would have said something about “vigorously defending” PwC in court.

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