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Ex-Tesla engineer sues company over alleged age discrimination

Tesla Store in Melbourne, Australia [Source: cybershack.com.au]
Tesla Store in Melbourne, Australia [Source: cybershack.com.au]

Former engineer at Tesla, Thomas Flessner, 69 years old, filed suit against the company in California federal court claiming he was treated unfairly by colleagues and ultimately fired because of his age. Flessner’s suit alleges that he was originally a contract hire who was hired full time by the company in 2012 as a materials engineer, but was marginalized by the team of people he worked with because of his age. He says his supervisor, Paul Edwards, criticized him repeatedly for getting his work done more slowly than his colleagues.

According to Fusion, Flessner alleges that he worked just as hard as anyone else on the team and that the younger members did not complete their tasks any faster than he did. He felt he was under additional pressure because he was always trying to dispel the myth that older people were slower or had a harder time adapting to technological changes.




Paul Edwards is named repeatedly in the complaint, which alleges he singled Flessner out by canceling meetings with him, ignoring his contributions, and criticizing him more sternly than his coworkers. Things got worse for Flessner after a health emergency caused him to need time off from work for medical reasons. In February of this year, he was fired.

Whatever the result of Flessner’s lawsuit, the tech industry in general has a reputation for preferring young workers. Companies constantly advertise that they are looking for “new graduates.” Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is on record as telling people at a tech conference that “people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

In 2013, PayScale, a company that compiles statistics on employee compensation, reported that as of the end of 2012 the median age of employees at Facebook was 26. At Google it was 29, at Microsoft age 34, and at Apple age 31. A year later, the New Republic reported on a plastic surgeon in San Francisco who claims he has had clients as young as 26 consult with him about having cosmetic surgery to make themselves look younger.

VentureBeat reported in 2007 that Facebook entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg told the Y Combinator conference, “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. If you want to found a successful company, you should only hire young people with technical expertise. Young people are just smarter,”

The tech industry may believe that anyone over 30 is on the downslope in life, but some of its most notable leaders are significantly older than that. Jony Ive, Apple’s famous head designer, will be 50 next year. Elon Musk is 45. Bob Mansfield, who has just been brought out of retirement to head Apple’s Project Titan, graduated from college in 1982.

Tech has a reputation for hiring few women and people over 40. Leaders may prefer mostly young males for their start-ups, but even the tech world has to obey national laws that apply to all people in the workplace.

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