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Big Blue faces age discrimination class action suit

IBM was a leading technology company in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Not only did it create innovative products, it was at the leading edge of promoting women, providing desirable benefits and generally treated the employees well. It became a major employer in the U.S. with 250,000 employees at one point.

Now the company faces age discrimination lawsuit after dismissing thousands of employees since 2012. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the suit alleges that IBM fired three people because of their age. The complaint also claims that the number of employees dismissed inordinately focused on employees over the age of 40, violating federal laws as well as state laws here in California. Laid off in June of 2017, the three plaintiffs are between 55 and 67 years old.

According to business analysis by Bloomberg, the company has lagged behind in cloud and mobile technology markets. Seeing other newer companies utilize a global workforce driven by younger employees comfortable with new ideas, IBM has followed suit. It now employs less than 100,000 in the U.S. with another 300,000 working overseas, particularly in India.

Alleged missteps by IBM

In early reporting by ProPublica, troubling findings include:

  • The company did not provide older workers with information regarding age discrimination, yet required them to sign away the right to take legal action regarding age discrimination.
  • The company targeted older employees for layoffs and firings, even when they were rated as high performing. Younger and cheaper staff then replaced them.
  • The company converted job cuts into retirements and used firings and resignations classifications to avoid the necessary public disclosure if these had been layoffs.
  • The company told employees their skills were out of date, yet brought them back as contractors with lower pay and fewer benefits.
  • The company referred to these older employees as “grey hairs” or “old heads.”

Keeping companies compliant yet agile

It is understood that personnel changes are unavoidable as a business’s needs change and people leave, but employment law protects employees from any action that is unfair in singling out an employee because of age, gender, and other identifying traits. An attorney with business and employment law experience can help companies navigate state and federal laws to avoid missteps that may lead to a lawsuit or a blow to the company’s brand identity.