[Baypiggies] Finding work - Company: Keas (S.F.)

Alex Martelli aleax at google.com
Sun Jun 7 05:59:35 CEST 2009

On Sat, Jun 6, 2009 at 11:04 AM, Shannon -jj Behrens<jjinux at gmail.com> wrote:
> To be clear, any company would be *lucky* to find an ol' timer like
> Roderick.  Some of the older members in our group such as Roderick,
> Mike Cheponis, Alex, and many of the others helped *define* the
> computer industry.  The actually *did* the stuff that I only read
> about.

Thanks jj for including me in the list!-)  IANAL, but I believe the
"young at heart" quip probably shields the company from legal
liability (though I'd hate to be the lawyer arguing that in front of a
jury...).  Otherwise, yes, age (like veteran status, family status,
ethnic origin, etc) falls among the categories the US forbids from
consideration in hiring.

Let me register my personal objection to that idea (as a citizen of a
nation and EU which has somewhat different criteria): if I was
building a startup with an application with a given target audience,
I'd be seriously pissed to be legally forbidden from looking for
developers, user experience experts, QA folks, etc, which match the
audience -- it should be my decision, not the govt's, whether (say) an
app for social networking among gays and lesbians who are veterans of
foreign wars is better off having some developers &c who ARE gay or
lesbian veterans of foreign wars, or not. Legally, in the US, I can
choose to preferentially hire gays or lesbians for those roles, but I
officially HAVE to be blind about veteran status. Which makes no sense
to me (but then I'm not a US citizen).

I had to ring a similar alarm bell last week at the "Sum of Google"
executive summit on diversity at my employer -- somebody (reasonably!)
mentioned that there are more dimensions to diversity than you'd
usually think of, e.g., the fact that he was a muslim. I had to speak
up and remind everybody that such facts are legally forbidden for
hiring considerations -- you can't decide muslims are
under-represented, nor that old people are under-represented, nor that
bachelors are, and institute an affirmative action policy to get a
more diverse workforce: the law forbids that. Gender, you may
consider; race, ditto; there are Supreme Court precedents saying so
(the mother of our VP J. Rosenberg was on the legal team that won that
Supreme Court decision for the Santa Clara county transportation dept,
so we heard all about it;-). Religion, family status, age, veteran
status, nope: you can't choose to be diverse in THOSE ways, the law
forbids it.

The INTENT of those laws is to bar discrimination AGAINST some kinds
of vulnerable groups -- but the letter, and judicial precedents, also
happens to bar affirmative action FOR them.

So, while sad to inject a negative note into an otherwise wonderfully
positive open debate, I had to remind my fellow googlers to get a
refresher of "hiring do's and don'ts" courses from our excellent HR
and Legal depts -- the laws are intricate and vary by country and by
year (and, sometimes it seems, by phase of the moon), but we STILL
have to respect them -- to the letter, even when (as I believe is
often the case here) this might make us less diverse and thereby break
the laws' overall guiding spirit:-(.

BTW, my country (Italy) has long been fighting in the courts against
my Community (the European Union) about age and gender discrimination
-- the EU forbids it, Italy thinks that's crazy and that it's
perfectly reasonable, say, to ask for a woman (NOT a man) to be the
massage therapist for a women's sports team, or to ask for somebody
55+ (NOT a 20-something individual) to be the entertainment director
for a senior citizens' residential resort, etc, etc -- i.e. that
gender discrimination in hiring is OK if it can be shown to relate to
the specifics of a job (so a nun convent looking for more nuns COULD
legally mandate them to be women, and a friar convent looking for more
friars COULD legally mandate them to be men -- this would currently be
illegal according to the letter of the EU directives...).  I'm not
going to mention my personal ideas on that one fight...


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