Intel under investigation for alleged age discrimination
Federal investigators are looking into age discrimination complaints against Intel, responding to allegations that the company's layoffs in 2015 and 2016 disproportionately targeted older workers, according to information reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the investigation Friday.
Intel eliminated 15,000 jobs in 2016 as part of the largest overhaul in the company's history as it worked to reduce its dependence on the fading PC market and pursue faster growing sectors, such as data centers, mobile communications and artificial intelligence.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reported the 2016 layoffs skewed older, with workers over 40 more than twice as likely to lose their jobs as those under 40. The disparities were greater among older groups of employees - workers over 60 were more than 8 times more likely to lose their jobs as those under 30.
There was another, smaller layoff in 2015 with a similar demographic profile.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been investigating Intel's cuts since at least November 2016, according to documents obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Documents reference a "class-wide allegation," potentially involving a large number of complaints.
Intel would not comment in 2016 on its layoff practices. In a statement Friday, though, the company denied age played any role in layoffs designed to facilitate the company's transition to new technologies.
"Personnel decisions were based solely upon skill sets and business needs to support that evolution," Intel said in a written statement. "Factors such as age, race, national origin, gender, immigration status, or other personal demographics were not part of the process when we made those decisions."
Complaints about age discrimination are common in the tech industry. Investigative site Pro Publica reported last week that the EEOC is looking into similar issues at IBM.
The EEOC said federal law prevents it from commenting on, or even confirming the existence of, ongoing investigations. If the agency finds evidence of unlawful conduct it can file suit against an employer or seek an administrative settlement. Alternately, it can kick the issue back to complaining employees to file their own suit.
"I've heard concerns from Oregonians about age discrimination in the tech industry," said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici in a written statement. She said her understanding is the EEOC is working to resolve constituents' cases. "Age discrimination is a real concern for older employees, and I will continue to work with employers and the EEOC to address it."
Portland employment attorney Craig Crispin said federal investigators will look for evidence of unlawful practices, such as other employees with similar experiences or discriminatory comments from employers. Those comments are sometimes indirect, he said, referencing a need for "new blood" or other coded terms for younger workers.
"They're looking, essentially, for whether or not there's substantial evidence that a violation has occurred," said Crispin, who is not representing parties in the Intel case. "How do you get to substantial evidence? You do it any way you can."
Investigations are a standard response to employee complaints about workplace discrimination and it can be difficult to ascertain the seriousness of the investigation from the outside. Age disparities in job cuts don't necessarily violate federal law if employers can show employers selected employees for layoffs based on factors other than age.
Inquiries sometimes move slowly, Crispin said, even in cases where the EEOC finds no violations. Still, he said the duration of the Intel investigation suggests the agency is taking an earnest look at the case.
"If they're going to dismiss, Crispin said, "it tends to be dismissed early."