Old white guys
I wasn't the first to come up with that headline, but as a *future* old white guy, I kind of like it. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
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Old white guys
In the year 2000, a 38-year-old former senior manager with EY named Joseph DiBenedetto landed a new job as a director in the tax department at AT&T.
Things were good, by all accounts. DiBenedetto rose through the ranks: first to executive director, and then assistant vice-president.
He got good reviews and merit-based compensation awards, according to a lawsuit.
(The use of the word “lawsuit” in the previous paragraph is what we call “foreshadowing.”)
After 20 years, however, when DiBenedetto was in his late 50s, his career hit a wall. According to court documents, the chronology went something like this:
July 2020: DiBenedetto learned that his boss was about to retire, and he expressed the hope that he might be promoted. But he was told that as "an old, white male with not enough 'runway' left in his career," his chances were slim.
Around the same time, AT&T's chief finance officer sent a department-wide email about "attracting and retaining diverse employees throughout our organization, especially at our senior levels," which included "bar graphs and charts showing the race, ethnicity, and gender composition of the Finance Department."
Two months later, September 2020: DiBenedetto learned that not only would he not be promoted, but that he and a dozen other employees in the tax department (all of them white and over age 50, as he was, and nine of 12 of them male) would lose their jobs, supposedly because of "numbers related" (financial) reasons.
October 2020: During DiBenedetto's last few weeks on the job after getting his termination notice, top executives led a webcast in which they said AT&T would be "doubling down" on its diversity and inclusion efforts, and "planned to hold [senior leaders] accountable" with quarterly reviews.
Later that month: AT&T's CEO reported on the company's recent performance, stating among other things: "We announced strong third-quarter results this morning," and reporting the company's "solid third quarter" in a webcast.
Piecing it together, DiBenedetto, whose last day at AT&T was November 2, 2020, says AT&T used supposed financial problems as an excuse to get rid of him when it had other objectives in mind.
It added insult to injury when the financial problems didn't even turn out to be true—at least if you believe the CEO's quarterly report, just weeks after DiBenedetto had been told his position would be eliminated.
(AT&T disputes the allegations and says it will continue to fight in court: "Reducing our workforce is a difficult decision that we don't take lightly, and each instance is reviewed thoroughly to ensure there is no discrimination of any kind," the company said in a statement to multiple news organizations reporting on the case.)
Look, these kinds of disputes and lawsuits happen all the time. But the DiBenedetto lawsuit against AT&T has now been allowed to go forward by two judges: first, a federal magistrate in May and now a federal district court judge in Atlanta.
And, the pitfalls DiBenedetto alleges add up to a pretty clear picture. As Stewart Schwab, a Cornell University law professor, told CBS News in its separate reporting on this case:
"If you follow a valid affirmative action plan that's focused on goals and not quotas, and you're dealing with hiring and not firing and it has some sense of a time element, if that's done, then it's lawful. … It does sound like some uncareful things were said to him ...
And this person was fired, so that's a big deal."
By the way, I’m using the “old white guy” phrase because it’s catchy of course, but it appears in both DiBenedetto’s complaint, and headline of the Reuters report that introduced me to the case to begin with.
And, as future old white guy (God willing), I found this debate intriguing—even though I think the odds of me working for someone else again are fairly remote. Never say never, but I like being my own boss.
I think most people agree in 2022 that diversity and inclusion are worthy goals. The judges involved in this case certainly took pains to make clear that they think so. Heck, I’ve never talked to DiBenedetto, but I can imagine he might agree (even though he obviously has some serious problems with its practical application in his case).
As his lawyer told Reuters, however, “You have to be careful about how a policy that is formulated as an aspirational statement is applied. Equal is equal.”
7 other things worth knowing today
Remembering Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, who was assassinated July 8. (Time)
Elon Musk’s attempted to blow up his deal to acquire Twitter over the weekend. The move "will likely force the social network into a protracted legal battle and send its stock price diving—thrusting a new level of chaos upon the firm after months of public disputes have battered its reputation and employee morale." Analyst: This was worst case scenario for Twitter, and now it’s happened." (WashPost)
Twitter is already staging mass layoffs. But as people lose their jobs, critics are asking: Was Musk's entire bid for the company just a cover for him to sell $8.5 billion in Tesla stock without diminishing Tesla's stock price? (SFGate, Fortune)
Gas prices across the U.S. are in a historic free fall after peaking at a record high of more than $5 a gallon on average less than a month ago, as signs (for now) point to continued declines over the coming weeks. (Forbes)
Wait. Did Minnesota accidentally legalize weed? Sort of: "a legalization provision was adopted during a marathon conference committee meeting in May without debate or objection." Top lawmaker: "I thought we were doing a technical fix, and it winded up having a broader impact than I expected." (Yahoo News)
A pregnant woman who was ticketed for driving alone in an HOV lane in Texas is fighting the citation on the grounds that since Roe vs. Wade was overturned, her unborn child must be considered a second passenger. "I pointed to my stomach and said, ‘My baby girl is right here. She is a person," said Brandy Bottone, who is 34 weeks pregnant. But the officer said, "'Oh, no. It’s got to be two people outside of the body.’" (Dallas News)
Pringles potato chips has launched a petition to urge the International Society for Arachnology to recognize the arachnid currently known as the kidney garden spider as the Pringles spider. The move comes after someone noticed that the markings on the spider’s abdomen bear some resemblance to the famously mustachioed Pringles mascot. (Fortune)