PwC Job Applicants Seek Cert. In Age Discrimination Row

Law360—Cara Bayles

Job applicants who allege PricewaterhouseCoopers turned them down in favor of younger candidates told a California federal judge Tuesday their age discrimination claims against the accounting firm should be adjudicated on a collective basis, arguing they were subject to the same nationwide hiring policy and culture of ageism. 

Plaintiffs’ attorney Melissa Stewart of Outten & Golden LLP told U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar a pattern of behavior signaled that PwC’s corporate culture favors “youthful applicants.” She touted statistical evidence suggesting younger applicants were far likelier to get hired than their counterparts over the age of 40.

PwC recruited young people on its website, through social media and during campus visits, Stewart said. And the entire company used the same hiring practices, suggesting any discrimination against older candidates is ripe for a nationwide class, she said.

“The individual claimants may rely on common evidence to prove their claims,” she said. “There are common modes through which this culture of favoring younger applicants is applied. There are aspects of common proof, and we’ll be able to show that evidence is common nationwide.”

The suit — filed by certified public accountant Steve Rabin — claims PwC has a "stunningly low" number of older workers in entry-level and lower- to mid-level positions. It accuses the firm of violating federal and state laws, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Rabin, who was 53 when he filed the suit last April, said PwC mostly hires entry-level accountants through campus recruiters, requiring applicants to be affiliated with a university. The firm allegedly doesn't post entry-level accountant positions on its website and doesn't offer a way for prospective applicants not affiliated with a college to apply for the jobs.

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Judge Tigar agreed that the Google case presented “the plaintiffs’ biggest challenge today.” He told Stewart he may well put off the question, but that it “hangs over the case.”

The judge said that if he applied for an accounting job, PwC would be “totally in its right to reject me.”

“I promise you I’m over 40,” he said. “I’m not entitled to any relief.”

Stewart said the argument was a bid by PwC to prematurely cut 83 percent of the class, adding “there’s no evidence in the record that there are facially unqualified people who applied for positions.” She also noted that the requirements were somewhat subjective and not stridently followed, and that the firm had overlooked them for students who didn’t meet the minimum grade point average.

“It’s important to remember these are entry-level jobs,” she said. “These are porous requirements that leave room for discretion.”

In a statement, Nicklin said PwC hires fewer than 5 percent of the 300,000 people who apply each year, adding those decisions “have nothing to do with age, and we will prove that in court.”

“There are many ways to apply for a job at PwC, not just through the campus hiring process,” she said. “We have applicants of all ages and experience levels. We pride ourselves on the quality of our hires and the diversity of our workforce.”

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Rabin is represented by Adam Klein, Laura Iris Mattes, Christina Schrum-Herrera, Jahan Sagafi, Melissa Stewart, Daniel Stromberg and Lucy Bansal of Outten & Golden LLP, and Daniel Kohrman, Laurie McCann and Dara Smith of AARP Foundation Litigation.

PwC is represented by Emily Nicklin, Christina Briesacher, Gabor Balassa, Mark Premo-Hopkins and Michael Esser of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

The case is Steve Rabin et al. v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, case number 3:16-cv-02276, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.