According to a 53-year-old former assistant manager in logistics at Volkswagen AG, the automaker told employees that it wanted to cast off it’s “old diesel image.”
That makes sense, as Volkswagen’s diesel image has cost the company some $30 billion in expenses. In 2015, the automaker admitted that it installed emissions-test cheating software on approximately 11 million diesel cars. The software could sense when cars were being tested under laboratory conditions and game the results. The goal was to increase sales of Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” vehicles. Two Volkswagen executives ended up in prison over the falsified emissions tests.
The more troubling part of the company’s announcement was that Volkswagen was about to undertake a company-wide effort to change its image to one of a “modern, young company focused on productivity, efficiency and technology.” This apparently would involve sloughing off older employees who didn’t fit that image — although the company promised this would occur through “natural fluctuations.”
The former assistant manager asserts that the changes were not achieved by waiting for people to retire, however. Instead, Volkswagen engaged in a purge, ridding itself of older workers through coercion, the man claims in a federal lawsuit. In specific, the plaintiff says he was demoted because of his age.
The lawsuit was filed as a putative class action, seeking to represent all current employees over age 50 who were affected. It seeks an injunction prohibiting Volkswagen from engaging in further discriminatory practices.
Age discrimination against people 40 and older is prohibited by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The ADEA prohibits most employers from discriminating with respect to the terms, conditions and privileges of employment during hiring, firing of layoffs, in compensation, benefits, training and job assignments. Harassment and retaliation are also prohibited, and the protections of the ADEA are not easily waived.
We cannot know from news reports whether the allegations in the federal lawsuit are true. If Volkswagen did follow an announcement with negative job actions against older employees, the automaker could be in significant trouble. A desire for a younger image at the company is not a legal justification for age discrimination.