Accenture sued by former sales boss for favouring 'new blood'

28 August 2018 Authored by Consultancy.uk

Accenture’s US wing has found itself at the heart of a discrimination lawsuit on the grounds of ageism. Former sales development manager Mark Stephens believes he was handed his marching orders by the firm in favour of “new blood”.

January 2016 saw then-54-year-old Mark Stephens recruited by Accenture, with the professional taken in to work as a sales development manager at the global consulting firm. Stephens was assigned to an outsourced project at Facebook. While he was approved for the job by the company, and argues he performed to the level expected of him in the role, Stephens quickly lost the position again, and has filed a legal complaint in Austin, Texas, citing age discrimination as the reason for his departure. Stephens is suing Accenture and Facebook under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a federal law, and the Texas Commission on Human Rights. 

In the complaint filed against the two companies, Stephens described being advised by Accenture supervisors, in their 50s and 40s, to act “young” during his interview with Facebook, as the social ad company had had problems with the age of the previous sales manager. In February 2016, Stephens commenced his spell working for Facebook's "Marketing Expert Program" project, reporting to two employees at Facebook – one in their 20s, the other aged 30-40 – while being paid by Accenture. 

Accenture sued by former sales boss for favouring 'new blood'

According to the former Accenture employee, Stephens was productive and received no disciplinary action, while the social media giant itself was happy with his performance. However, come June 2016, Facebook ended that program in Austin, and moved it to Phoenix, Arizona, because it had decided to use a different vendor. While this complicated matters, Accenture still managed to find jobs for 27 of the 30 employees working on the Facebook programme just one month later. Stephens was not among them, and was placed on "the bench," according to the complaint. After a further four-month wait, Stephens was informed that he was being fired. 

Not long after, however, in February 2017, one of Stephens' former Accenture managers got in touch, informing him that Facebook’s Marketing Expert Program was due to restart in Austin, and adding that he would be a good fit. This time, though, Stephens was not hired, and his manager allegedly let him know that "Facebook wanted 'new faces,' 'new blood,' and to go in 'a different direction,'” while Stephens again stated he received assurances that performance was not an issue. 

Instead, the complaint states, a further nine months later, Stephens discovered that Facebook had hired a man in his 30s to lead the Marketing Expert Program. This was apparently the same man who reported to Stephens when he was in charge, something which he took exception to. As a result, Stephens’ complaint claims the successful candidate favoured over him "had no experience managing employees prior to working under Stephens and is substantially less qualified." 

In a statement to tech-industry platform The Register, Daniel Ross, a partner at Ross Law Group which is representing Stephens, said, "I've been an employment lawyer for over twenty years, and I’ve never seen age discrimination as rampant as it is in the high-tech industry. Mr Stephens ran a successful sales program at Accenture for Facebook. Our position is that during that time, my client was told to 'act young' and 'act energetic' when meeting with Facebook management because Facebook thought the previous manager was too old." 

Ross added, "What makes age discrimination cases particularly damaging is that the older a person is, the harder it is to get a job. What we’re trying to do with this and other lawsuits is to reduce and prevent age discrimination in the workplace. The fact is, everyone gets older."

Discrimination 

Accenture has seen a succession of discrimination cases take aim at the firm in recent years. The US arm of Accenture was taken to task for racial discrimination for the second time in as many years in 2017, following allegations from Mohammed Ali, who claimed that as a result of his race and religion, he was paid a lower salary. Accenture has subsequently been making efforts to address such issues, with the company launching the pro-diversity campaign ‘Inclusion Starts with I’.

However, age discrimination is often overlooked by such efforts, and is a particular concern for technology orientated organisations which often make assumptions about generational divides in the use and understanding of innovation at work. In Silicon Valley, for example, a study from employment resources firm Indeed.com found that 43% of workers worry about losing their jobs as a consequence of their age. With regards to this, May 2018 saw Facebook among more than a dozen companies added to a December 2017 action against Amazon.com, Cox Media Group, Cox Communications and T-Mobile US. The lawsuit alleged that firms had used Facebook ads to weed out older job applicants.

Elsewhere, other IT and professional services firms have also been embroiled in allegations of ageism. Former staff members of HP and IBM have made similar age discrimination claims, while a recent joint report by Mother Jones and ProPublica charged IBM with laying off older workers more frequently than their younger peers. 

The issue is by no means exclusive to the US, either. Over 55s are increasingly under-employed across the world, something which is having a dire impact on the economy. According to an analysis of PwC’s Golden Age Index, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – an intergovernmental economic organisation with 36 member countries – could stand to benefit from a GDP increase of $3.5 trillion if they were to more thoroughly employ over-55s. The Big Four firm’s analysis concluded that if the OECD could match the employment rate for the age group in New Zealand – the world’s second highest for 55-64 year olds – of 78%, the global economy could experience a major boost.

Related: Timing sees Facebook avoid multi-million GDPR fine from UK.

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