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.