IBM policies towards its older members of staff is once again in the spotlight, after 15 former employees filed a lawsuit in Texas for alleged age discrimination.

The lawsuit was filed in the western district of Texas, according to the Register, with the fifteen former staffers “collectively complaining of violations of the ADEA and of each applicable state laws protecting citizens from discrimination on the basis of age.”

ADEA is the US Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Age discrimination lawsuit

This is not the first time these type of allegations have been leveled at IBM.

Big Blue has previously been accused of flouting rules against age bias, and axing mostly older staff and moving jobs overseas (a large percentage of IBM staffers are now based in India and Bangladesh).

“More specifically, Plaintiffs allege that IBM’s highest executives created and attempted to conceal a multi-faceted ”fire-and-hire’ scheme with the ultimate goal of making IBM’s workforce younger,” the complaint alleges.

“As part of the scheme , IBM’s executives designed rolling layoffs that disproportionately targeted and terminated older workers,” it alleged. “The scheme also involved giving older workers baseless negative performance reviews to justify their subsequent terminations.”

“IBM simultaneously hired young college-aged employees en masse to replace the laid off older employees – often creating different job titles and shifting divisional structures to provide cover for the discriminatory acts,” the complaint states. “To ensure the success of its efforts, IBM explicitly excluded younger employees, or ‘Early Professional Hires,’ from the rolling layoffs.”

“The plot was exposed by documents and testimony produced in a virtually identical prior action against IBM,” the lawsuit states, citing Jonathan Langley, who a highly “successful long-time IBM employee terminated as part of this illegal enterprise.”

It should be remembered that back in March 2018, an in-depth report by ProPublica and Mother Jones alleged that IBM had a systematic strategy of pushing out IBM staffers aged 40 and upwards, and replacing them with younger, and cheaper employees.

In that report, IBM was alleged to have laid off around 20,000 US employees over 40 years of age over the past five years.

However some IBM watchers believe that number was much higher.

Jonathan Langley lawsuit

The ProPublica and Mother Jones report in March 2018 triggered a lawsuit against IBM by Jonathan Langley, who was laid off in 2017 while serving as the worldwide program director and sales lead of IBM’s Bluemix cloud.

Langley has reportedly claimed that IBM laid him off specifically because of his age, then 59, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

He had been with IBM for 24 years.

And he claimed in the lawsuit that Big Blue was deliberately pursuing a company-wide plan to de-age its workforce.

In the Langley lawsuit, IBM HR VP Alan Wild revealed in a deposition that IBM had cut from 50,000 to 100,000 workers over the past five years.

Then in September 2019 Andrew W. Austin, a federal magistrate judge in Austin, Texas, ordered IBM to hand over internal documents, including memos and communications from then CEO Ginni Rometty, in relation to the lawsuit.

Then in April this year, the judge overseeing Langley’s age discrimination lawsuit against IBM, dismissed the case.

It was widely reported in the media at the time, that the dismal strongly suggested that Langley’s case had been settled confidentially out of court, after IBM’s efforts to have the case dismissed were rejected.

EEOC report

And the bad news keeps coming for IBM.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last week analysed claims of age discrimination by 60 people forced out of their jobs at IBM and found “there is reasonable cause to believe [IBM] has discriminated against [those bringing the charges] and others on account of their age.”

According to the EEOC, 85 percent of those considered for layoffs between 2013 and 2018 at the IT giant were older workers.

“Evidence uncovered older employees who were laid off and told their skills were out of date, only to be brought back as contract workers, at a lower rate of pay with fewer benefits,” the Register quoted the watchdog as saying in its report.

But it seems that the EEOC also found the evidence to be insufficient to establish that the law had been broken.

It asked IBM to resolve the complaints informally through negotiation with the commission and its aggrieved former staffers.

Age discrimination is illegal in the United States thanks to the Employment Act, which became law in 1967.

But proving age discrimination can be difficult, and matters are not helped by it apparently being a fairly common practice in America, as it provides businesses with a smaller salary wage bill and lower benefits outlay.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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