In 2007, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke to a group of aspiring entrepreneurs at a startup workshop at Stanford University about “the importance of being young and technical.” Zuckerberg, who was 22 years old at the time, went on to say that “young people are just smarter.” He cited attributes like “simpler lives,” which would allow younger employees to devote more time to their jobs. Age discrimination has long been a serious issue in the technology industry. The question of whether maintaining a young, energetic workforce–at the cost of losing older, more experienced employees–is ultimately to a company’s benefit is something that tech industry analysts can discuss. Refusing to hire someone solely on the basis of his or her age is often against both state and federal law. This problem is not limited to the tech industry but occurs in many industries all over the country. As the tech industry expands into places like New Jersey, however, the way in which some tech companies proudly tout their “youth” bears scrutiny.
Under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), employers may not discriminate against employees in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment based on the person’s age. 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). This includes limiting job openings to a particular age group, either expressly or by using terms like “new or recent graduates preferred.” The ADEA, however, only applies to workers who are at least 40 years old. 29 U.S.C. § 631. It therefore might not prohibit age discrimination based on a determination that a person is too young. New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) also prohibits discrimination on the basis of age. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a).
The tech industry, in California’s Silicon Valley and elsewhere, appears to value youth as much as, if not more than, the movie industry in Hollywood or the fashion industry in New York City. This has manifested itself in a variety of ways, from a general lack of “graybeards” to awkward work environments for the older tech workers who do manage to find jobs. It also includes multiple instances of overt age discrimination, such as the sort of job listings mentioned earlier that discourage older job seekers, either by directly stating an age limit or using phrases like “Class of 2007 or 2008 preferred.” A job advertisement using that phrase led to a settlement, which did not include any monetary penalties, between Facebook and California employment regulators in 2013.