IBM Faces New Age Discrimination Lawsuit, Alleging Unfair Layoffs

IBM is the target of a new age-discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of three employees.

“Over the last several years, IBM has been in the process of systematically laying off older employees in order to build a younger workforce,” those employees insisted in the suit, which was filed by Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney known for suing Uber, Amazon, and other tech giants.

IBM insists there’s no age discrimination involved in its recent terminations.  “Since 2010 there is no difference in the age of our U.S. workforce, but the skills profile of our employees has changed dramatically,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email to Bloomberg, which detailed the lawsuit. “That is why we have been and will continue investing heavily in employee skills and retraining—to make all of us successful in this new era of technology.”

Nonetheless, the lawsuit comes at a sensitive time for IBM, which faces at least one other lawsuit related to the termination of older workers. Fueling the legal fire is a much-circulated report issued earlier this year by ProPublica and Mother Jones, which suggests that, over the past five years, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 jobs held by American employees aged 40 and over, “about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts.”

That report also accused IBM of systematically targeting older employees, while converting many job cuts into retirements in order to reduce the number of employees counted as layoffs. In addition, the company reportedly “denied older workers information the law says they need in order to decide whether they’ve been victims of age bias,” and laid off older workers only to bring them back as contract workers “at lower pay and fewer benefits.”

“As IBM trained its sights on younger workers, it also took steps to change the way it dealt with those who’d spent many years on the job,” the report added. “It embraced a legal strategy that made it much easier for the company to dismiss older workers, and to do so in ways that minimized legal consequences and largely avoided public attention.”

After that report came out, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched an investigation into possible age discrimination at IBM.

IBM isn’t the only tech giant facing age-discrimination action. As of May 2018, Intel was reportedly in the crosshairs of the EEOC over targeting older employees for dismissal. When the news of that investigation first broke, an Intel spokesperson insisted that any layoffs were “based solely upon skills sets and business needs.”

Even job postings risk discriminating against older workers. In May, a lawsuit filed by the Communications Workers of America claimed that Facebook is filtering job ads to a younger crowd, violating fair employment laws in the process. “When Facebook’s own algorithm disproportionately directs ads to younger workers at the exclusion of older workers, Facebook and the advertisers who are using Facebook as an agent to send their advertisements are engaging in disparate treatment,” read the lawsuit filing. (The ACLU later filed its own action.)

Ageism remains a huge problem in the tech industry in general. Responding to the recent Dice Diversity and Inclusion Survey, some 68 percent of Baby Boomers said they’re discouraged from applying for jobs due to age. Around 40 percent of those who belong to Generation X felt ageism is affecting their ability to earn a living. And 29 percent of all respondents said they’ve “experienced or witnessed” ageism in their current workplace or their most recent employer.

20 Responses to “IBM Faces New Age Discrimination Lawsuit, Alleging Unfair Layoffs”

  1. Not at all surprising to read this. There will be other companies. I’m not sure how interested our current administration is in doing anything about age discrimination in the workplace. It’s not just younger workers being hired but many of them are insourced from India. Seems like we can’t win.

    • Age descrimination is very real. I was 64 years old, one year away from being able to claim more than $300/mo more of Social Security benefits, when my company of almost 17 years of superior service, decided to let me go. It was impossible to find other employment at my age. Other companies went through motions to show interest, but in every case, was not chosen.

  2. I recently applied on line for a job at Google. I couldn’t submit the application until I disclosed my b-day including the year I was born! Isn’t this illegal? Are there any legal actions against Google?
    I guess I should’t expect to hear from them as I am 61 years old – but highly skilled in high-Tech with over 34 years of a Succesfull track record. I have been applying and networking for a job since I got laid off by AT&T in January. The Google career site is the only place I had to disclose my age in order to be able to submit my application. Strange!!

  3. Add First Data to the list.
    First Data was crying for Cobol programmers. So, I filled out an application, but at the very end they forced me to give my social security number… bingo they know my age. I’m 59 with 20 plus years of Cobol experience. Guess they really didn’t need Cobol programmers.

  4. It is not just Google that sets up a way to determine your age. Almost all companies request the year you graduate from college as a measure as well. You cannot get through an application unless you put in an answer. It is much more disheartening that Gen X and Gen Y are now being targeted as being “too old” and not just the Baby Boomer generation.

    As a hiring manager, I cannot get younger people to understand that they actually have to work and not just get a paycheck for breathing. I don’t see the attraction by these short sighted companies in hiring only younger people. Far too many don’t have the emotional maturity or any work expereience to bring to the table. Once it is determined that the day is possibly going to involve monotonous, repetitive, mind-numbing work and meetings, they quit. The cost to advertise for, interview and train successive people to fill these now abandoned spots doesn’t seem to be a part of the monetary equation against hiring an older more mature worker.

  5. Just like IBM, the last company I worked for, forced me to retire at age 62 (I’m 63 now). The fact that I was a stellar employee notwithstanding, they didn’t think twice about pushing me out, knowing that it’d be extremely difficult for me to find a job somewhere else because of my age, not my technical skills. I have been looking since and though 3 times I made it to the final round of candidates, I was not selected in any. Many times I’ve been told I have an impressive CV but, as time has gone by, it’s gotten to the point which I don’t even get interviews. Ageism has always existed and the main reason companies lay off or “retire” older employees is because of their high salaries. We’re just a number with a salary associated to it.

  6. Dan Marinescu

    at&t does the same, really! shamesly via their so called union. once you turned 50, even if are loyal, productive, do not cost more and on top of that you are open to train younger employees, you will be worst than decimated, one employee in four are let go after turning 50. just like that. this is a fact, not a rumor i am talking about. their ceo (a technical illiterate) can afford to literally throw 4.6 billions dollars through the window (see verizon merge, it’s public knowledge, it already makes standard mba textbooks at chapter “what you do, don’t do this at work”) or engage (about to be) convicted felons like kohen to bribe away deals like warner bros purchase (literally textbook for sherman act flagrant and premeditated violations) but when it comes to employees, apparently it’s a different story. they turn 50, they have to go, one out of 4 each year) way to go at&t. !@)(#*!)@(*#)!(@*#)!(*@#)!(@*#

  7. Dan Marinescu

    not really sure about amazon (where retention is literally ridiculous, senior software engineer/architect – average retention 1 year, for full time employees – “nice” huh?!?), google or apple (literally have no data either way for them, but it seems at least that apple is the nicest place to be regarding this particular issue) but i do also know for a fact that microsoft “took care” of this in a very proactive manner (literally since mid 80s) they would hire consultants instead of full time employees. naturally, regardless on how high your technical standards are, replacing a development/engineering actor is clearly a waste of money. obviously certain corporations were founded by kids with high school education, which shows. clearly same for oracle (used to be for sun). i have no doubts whatsoever that ibm is a champion of all evils (in this direction), oh, i almost forgot, hp (especially during fiorina “glorious” episode broke all the records, my ex boss was an ex linker engineer from hp, literally she got read of them, because, you know, miss idiot could not compile things like compiler, linker, etc just another 40 billions thrown out of the windows and literally thousands of american families destroyed (shouldn’t this be seriously considered like advanced domestic terrorism by dead crashing stupidity and traffic of influence – she was promoted by another genius in the field miss clinton (do i remember her last name well? not important, i guess i do 🙂 ) well, anyway, texas instruments has similar examples. do not misunderstand me, pay no attention, can always be worst, generally it is good to get some of these names on your resume, or, also often the case get read of them from your resume (some of us reverse exaggerate in the resume, because if they put there all they did, their resume(s) would look like daemons’ resume(s) and nobody would hire them, in most cases the issue being that interviewers and hiring managers could not actually interview them, despites some of the engineers really need a job from time to time and they are good people willing to work not only hard but smart as well and be very helpful with younger engineers. well, long story. as soon as there is no maximum wage (next to minimum wage) – and i am not talking about owners, i am talking about managers (as in employees) and realistic anti age discrimination legislation, well, we’ll keep experiencing this phenomenon. there are other things, way worse than this like gender discrimination, race discrimination, place of origin discrimination, disguised political discrimination, etc. it would take a lot of time and effort to fine tune these issues, bubbling up from the pre-civil war or mid 19st-20th century times. but, slowly, by the year 3000 AD most of them will be taken care of (not the way we are reversing odometer as we speak :-)) time will tell. i am however optimistic

    in certain red states, e.g. mississippi, alabama, there are no state/local laws of any kind, related to, for example unpaid overtime, sometimes in two folds magnitude. what happens there is that the federal related regulations take action. would you like to know what uncle sam has to say about overtime, even on w2 and/or 1099 cases? that because software engineer is a privileged occupation, employees do not deserve to be paid over time even when they literally work over 100 hours/week, weekends and legal holidays included, or long night shifts. “lovely” huh?!? 🙂 naturally, good engineers have choices and often they just live, in order to address such issues, friendly, smooth but fast as in “bye now”. smarter engineers choose the perfect moment to do this, after of course, expressing fatigue in a very civil manner. the perfect moment would be just before an important RTM. personally i would not recommend it (it’s somehow immoral, my 2 cents) but often people do that, causing hundreds of millions in immediate damage and in right to work states (ex confederation) this is perfectly allowed (both ways, regardless of what contract or employment papers stipulate, both employer and employees can terminate their relationship with or without reason, or prior notice of any kind). that is “right to work” laws are all about. “nice” huh?!? 🙂 LOL
    anyway, guys, be happy that we are what we are, we are useful and needed and such employers learn too, their best teacher works like a charm (talking about their own wallet, upper management, stockholders, you name it)
    so, follow your excitement, do what you do best and beyond and be happy with what you got!

  8. Dan Marinescu

    unrelated (learn from my borland r&d years) if you fail to plan, then plan to fail 🙂 LOL
    plan, execute then see that what you did was good (if you look, the engineering process is clearly described as such even in genesis)