The Ramifications of Stacked Rankings

It’s fair to say that employee-ranking systems are controversial and pretty unpopular. But illegal?

A former Yahoo! Inc. employee contends the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based technology company’s quarterly performance reviews violate state and federal laws, and claims as much in a lawsuit filed Monday in San Jose, Calif.

The reviews, which rate every Yahoo! employee on a scale of 1 to 5, have been one of Marissa Mayer’s “signature policies” since taking over as CEO in 2012, according to the New York Times.

Earlier this week, the Times summed up the suit filed by Gregory Anderson, in which he challenges Yahoo!’s performance review system as “discriminatory and a violation of federal and California laws governing mass layoffs,” according to the paper.

Anderson, an editor who supervised a handful of Yahoo! sites before his November 2014 firing, charges that the company’s senior managers “routinely manipulated the rating system to fire hundreds of people without just cause to achieve the company’s financial goals,” notes the Times.

Such cuts, Anderson claims, amounted to “illegal mass layoffs.”

As the paper points out, California law mandates that employers making layoffs that involve more than 50 employees, and take place within 30 days at a single location, must provide workers 60 days advance notice. On the federal level, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act obliges employers to offer advance notice for a layoff of 500 or more employees.

According to the Times, Yahoo! never provided such notices when it let go of 1,100 employees between late 2014 and early 2015, “ostensibly for performance reasons.” The company is now faced with the prospect of paying each affected employee $500 a day in addition to back pay and benefits for each day of advance notice it failed to provide, the Times reports.

For its part, Yahoo! maintains that its rating system is sound. In a statement, the company says its performance review process “also allows for high performers to engage in increasingly larger opportunities at our company, as well as for low performers to be transitioned out.” In regard to Anderson’s legal complaint, the company says his specific allegations are groundless, and claims that Anderson unsuccessfully sought a $5 million settlement before filing the suit.

It could be a while before this case winds its way through the legal system. And we’ll certainly be following it here. (In fact, come back to HREOnline early next week for a more in-depth analysis of Anderson’s claims, including some expert insight into the nuances of the lawsuit and its chances of succeeding.)

In the meantime, the stacked rankings that have been a hallmark of Mayer’s tenure at Yahoo! will likely remain a polarizing concept. Although the stacked ranking system has never had a shortage of detractors, a claim that such rankings are actually illegal seems unique. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.