Alleging the company discriminates against its older employees and fosters a "corporate culture of age bias," IKEA is the target of a newly-filed class action lawsuit (Paine v. IKEA Holding US, Inc. et al., No. 19-cv-00723 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 21, 2019)). Since February 2018, at least five current and former employees have filed lawsuits against IKEA alleging age discrimination.
The lawsuits have all been filed in a period of just over a year. And they all argue that Ikea has fostered a workplace culture of discrimination, which systematically recruits and promotes young talent rather than workers over 40. The problem is alleged to have become even worse, once the company began an aggressive restructuring effort in 2017.
Whether protected-age job seekers can pursue lawsuits under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act without showing the alleged bias was intentional is a question on which federal courts are divided. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 declined to consider the issue in a case against R.J. Reynolds, leaving in place a holding by a federal appeals court in Atlanta that the ADEA doesn’t permit disparate impact or unintentional bias claims by job applicants. But a federal district court in California reached the opposite conclusion in a case against PricewaterhouseCoopers. Ultimately, this split in the circuits will have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Age discrimination as a part of a large company restructuring can often be something that appears obvious while being simultaneously very difficult to prove. To make matters even more challenging, companies often offer severance packages to those being laid off, giving them only a few weeks to consult with an attorney and consider the issues.
If you find yourself the subject of a proposed layoff and you believe you may have been targeted due to your age (over 40) or if you have been given a severance agreement to review and consider, start looking for a qualified employment lawyer right away. Finding a qualified employment attorney who represents employees rather than companies may be more challenging than you think. In Texas, a good place to start is the Find-A-Lawyer page of the Texas Employment Lawyers Association. In other states, I would suggest you start with the National Employment Lawyers Association. Both groups feature lawyers who represent employees rather than employers and both have a lot of good information available for you to review and consider.