HP, HP Enterprise Accused of Age Discrimination in Suit

Four former employees of Hewlett-Packard Co. have filed a lawsuit alleging they were victims of age discrimination as the technology giant pared its workforce in recent years.

Four former employees of Hewlett-Packard Co. HPQ 0.28 % have filed a lawsuit alleging they were victims of age discrimination as the technology giant pared its workforce in recent years.

Their suit, filed Aug. 18 in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., alleges violations of California and federal laws and seeks class-action status on behalf of other workers who were 40 years old or older at the time they were laid off. It names Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. HPE 0.28 % and HP Inc., the two companies formed when Hewlett-Packard broke up last fall.

Representatives of the two companies denied discriminating against older workers.

H-P, founded in 1939, reported 287,000 employees at the time of the breakup in October 2015, nearly 63,000 fewer than the same time in 2011. The majority went to the portion now called HP Enterprise, which sells server systems, data storage and networking gear, software and servers aimed at corporate customers. Fewer than 20% went to HP, which sells personal computers, printers and printing supplies.

The lawsuit quotes from comments since 2012 by Meg Whitman, then chief executive of H-P and now CEO of HP Enterprise, which it claims indicated a desire for a larger proportion of younger workers at the company, particularly in its enterprise-services business. The suit claims she expressed a preference for a distribution that could be compared with a pyramid, with many young workers at the base, replacing a diamond shape with a bulge of middle-aged workers.

“We are working very hard to recalibrate and reshape our labor pyramid so that it looks like the more classical pyramid that you should have in any company” and particularly in enterprise services, the complaint quotes Ms. Whitman as saying in a 2013 meeting with securities analysts.

The complaint states that the four plaintiffs were all laid off under circumstances that shifted their duties to younger workers.

A spokesman for Hewlett Packard Enterprise said in an email statement on behalf of the company and Ms. Whitman that the company has a longstanding commitment to the principles of equal employment, including relating to workers’ ages. “The decision to implement a workforce reduction is always difficult, but we are confident that our decisions were based on legitimate factors unrelated to age.”

A spokesman for HP said in an email that the company is aware of the claims, denies them and plans to defend against them. He also expressed a commitment to equal-treatment principles, even during workforce reductions.

“We take care to make tough decisions based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons,” the spokesman said.

Write to Don Clark at don.clark@wsj.com

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