IBM Ordered To Turn Over Ginny Rometty Emails In Age Discrimination Lawsuit

IBM has been ordered to hand over internal emails in which former CEO Ginny Rometty and former SVP of Human Resources Diane Gherson discuss efforts to get rid of older employees.

The Register reported that IBM received the order from a US judge, in one of the ongoing age discrimination lawsuits Big Blue is currently facing.

Last week New Jersey Superior Court Judge Alberto Rivas granted the plaintiff’s motion for discovery in Schenfeld v. IBM, an age discrimination claim filed in late 2018.

Court order

“An email dated June 10, 2016 was sent by [former] IBM employee Erich Clementi, SVP of sales and distribution, Chairman Europe, which contained the term ‘dinobabies’ that was used to describe older IBM employees,” the order reportedly says.

“Furthermore, the push to increase the number of millennial employees and decrease the number of older employees was the subject of several emails involving Ginny Rometty, the predecessor Chief Executive Officer of IBM, and Diane Gherson, who was SVP for Human Resources.”

The judge’s order continues, “The emails contained within Exhibit 10 evidence an interest at the then CEO-level to change the profile of IBM employees so that it reflected a younger workforce. The core issue presented in this case is whether Plaintiff [Eugen Schenfeld] was illegally separated from IBM due to his age. Therefore, the relevancy of these emails to this litigation is pronounced.”

The emails were sent between April 2016 and July 2017, the Register reported.

The plaintiff is former IBM research scientist Eugen Schenfeld, who alleged that he was terminated in 2018 as part of “Project Concord,” one of many IBM workforce reductions, which Big Blue refers to as “Resource Actions.”

The trial date for the Schenfeld case is scheduled next month.

An IBM spokesperson meanwhile reiterated to the Register, past statements about the lack of age discrimination at the company.

“The facts of the matter have not changed: there was and is no systemic age discrimination at IBM and the data back that up,” IBM’s spokesperson reportedly said. “Further, with regards to the Schenfeld case, age played no role whatsoever in this individual’s departure.”

Age discrimination?

IBM has previously been hit with a number of allegations 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).

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.

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.

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 that lawsuit.

Then in April 2020, the judge overseeing Langley’s age discrimination lawsuit against IBM, dismissed the case.

It was widely reported 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 assessment

IBM has consistently rejected any allegations of age discrimination.

But in August 2020 the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) 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.

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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