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EEOC finds evidence of systemic age discrimination at IBM

On Behalf of | Feb 9, 2021 | Employment Law

It wouldn’t be the first time a big tech company thought it would have a better image if it hired younger workers. It wouldn’t be the first time a company tried to save money by shedding expensive older workers and replacing them with younger, cheaper ones.

Discrimination based on age is prohibited by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. For covered employers, it is illegal to make any employment decision based on an employee being 40 or over.

Two years ago, the nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica uncovered evidence that IBM had systematically worked to rid itself of older workers between 2013 and 2018. Over that period, IBM laid off tens of thousands of employees — the vast majority of whom were 40 and over.

‘Correcting’ the seniority mix

In some cases, older workers got laid off despite having positive performance reviews. In others, IBM told the workers their skills were stale, but invited them back as low-paid contractors. In some cases, IBM saved a lot of money by ridding itself of workers who had built up high salaries over years of service. It allegedly earmarked that money to bring in “early professional hires” in order to “correct seniority mix.”

Now, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a letter to a group of ex-IBMers. That letter states that there is enough evidence to charge IBM with age discrimination. The letter could directly affect over 6,000 former IBM employees, and that number could easily grow.

IBM has defended itself by claiming that every business unit makes hiring and layoff decisions separately based on business needs, not age. However, the EEOC specifically found “top-down messaging from (IBM’s) highest ranks directing managers to engage in an aggressive approach to significantly reduce the headcount of older workers to make room for Early Professional Hires.”

The EEOC letter also states that it has received corroborating testimony about the alleged age discrimination from dozens of witnesses nationwide.

The next step for the EEOC is to try to negotiate a settlement between IBM and the group of workers. If no settlement is possible, the agency could file a lawsuit to enforce the ADEA. IBM has indicated that it will vigorously defend itself.

The stakes are high. As many as 20,000 older workers may have been laid off in contravention of the law. A loss against the EEOC could encourage more workers to file.

Have you experienced age discrimination at IBM or another company? Leigh Law Group can help you assess your situation, gather evidence, and make a persuasive complaint.