The federal watchdog for equal employment is investigating claims that
targeted workers for layoffs based on their age.
Nearly three years after the chip maker launched a series of layoffs that cut more than 10,000 employees globally, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Seattle office is working to determine whether the job cuts were discriminatory, according to a document from the agency reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The issue of potential age discrimination is recurrent in the tech industry, where the workforces at many firms skew younger and the pace of change is often rapid.
Following the Intel layoffs, dozens of former employees sought legal advice on whether they could sue, according to lawyers who received calls from the employees. Some of those former employees filed complaints with the EEOC, according to people familiar with the matter.
In one set of layoffs in May 2016, the median age of the 2,300 employees let go was 49 years old, seven years older than the median age of their peer employees who remained, according to Intel documents viewed by the Journal. Many of the layoffs in the U.S. occurred in Oregon, where Intel is one of the largest employers.
The company, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif., said its layoffs were intended to “fuel Intel’s evolution” from a supplier to the PC industry to one whose processors power the cloud and connected devices.
“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,” a spokesman for Intel said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the EEOC said the agency isn’t permitted to confirm or deny the existence of investigations.
Layoffs of older workers, who tend to be better paid, happen in any variety of industries. But in recent years several tech firms have been sued for alleged age discrimination, and Pro Publica reported earlier this year that the EEOC is also looking into age-discrimination complaints at
An IBM spokesman declined to comment.
Under federal employment law, people alleging age discrimination by their employers must first file complaints with the EEOC. The agency then investigates these complaints, and determines whether there is sufficient evidence to settle the matter privately, or help take the cases to court, sometimes as class-action suits.
“If someone files an individual charge, and it looks like it implicates broader, systemic issues, then the EEOC can expand the investigation to include the broader issue,” said David Lopez, a former general counsel for the EEOC who now is a partner at law firm Outten & Golden.
The document viewed by the Journal indicates the agency hasn’t yet determined whether to file a class-action suit against Intel.
If the EEOC doesn’t find sufficient evidence to file its own case, the agency issues a letter to those who filed charges that allows them to file civil cases.
—Ted Greenwald contributed to this article.
Write to Georgia Wells at Georgia.Wells@wsj.com