A former engineer with the social media website Twitter is suing the company claiming he was fired for being too old.
According to a complaint filed in a California court last week, 57-year-old Peter Taylor claims he was let go from the company in September for being too old and too sick.
Taylor was hired by Twitter in January 2011 to work as a managing engineer in the social network’s data center. According to Taylor, he received many accolades for his work at the company, received positive employment reviews and was awarded 20,000 restricted stock units for saving the company $10 million during his employment.
But then he got sick, and that’s where Twitter’s attitude toward Taylor changed, the former employee says.
In April 2013, Taylor was diagnosed with kidney stones, a disability under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Within the next two months, he had surgery to remove the stones, scheduling his hospital visits around his work schedule so that he could continue to fulfill his job duties, according to his complaint.
When Taylor started asking for additional assistance following his surgery, he says his bosses at Twitter “refused to accommodate” his disability.
Several months later, his managers at Twitter let him go. According to Taylor, one manager made a “critical remark” about the man’s age. Taylor says he was replaced with “several employees in their 20s and 30s.”
Taylor is seeking unspecified damages as well as attorney’s fees. Twitter says the company will vigorously defend itself and the lawsuit is without merit.
The lawsuit will certainly add more fuel to the ongoing debate about ageism in Silicon Valley. For those who work in the industry, it’s no secret that young startups and large companies alike prefer to hire younger talent — industry experience and age can, and often does, work against prospective employees.
One reason? Tech bosses feel younger people have less commitments in life and can better focus on a company’s product.
“Young people just have simpler lives,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in 2007. “We may not own a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”
Those with less experience are also seen as bringing innovation to the table at a cheaper cost, an attractive quality for many budding Silicon Valley startups. Older technophiles are often perceived as coming with older ideas, a higher price tag and a potential myriad of health problems that can slow development and stifle innovation.
“Especially in social media, cloud computing and mobile apps, if you’re over 40 you’re perceived to be over the hill,” Kris Stadelman, the director of the NOVA Workforce Board, told The New York Times in 2012.
The opportunities are popping up in places where older technology workers may not want to work: Mobile apps like Snapchat, Grindr and WhatsApp are looking for engineers right now, and have been for months, but its unlikely that lifers from Cisco and Hewlett-Packard are applying for those jobs.
And the kids who are graduating from college with their sights set on Silicon Valley? They’ll likely apply to startups where they can help build a potentially world-changing product — or prestigious tech companies like Facebook and Google where they’ll feel a sense of validation and security.
That was certainly true for a handful of young tech workers who took Peter Taylor’s job at Twitter last year. Now a court will determine if Taylor is the latest example of Silicon Valley pushing out the old to make way for the new.