IBM made ‘top-down’ efforts to fire older workers, says US employment discrimination watchdog

Then hired some of them back on lower wages

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IBM systematically sought to sack older workers, according to the United States' Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

That opinion was expressed in an EEOC determination regarding claims lodged by more than 60 people against the tech goliath, all alleging “they and a class of similarly situated individuals were discharged based on their age.”

The letter, obtained by ProPublica, stated IBM denied the allegations of discrimination, and said it gave no anti-age directives to its managers. Big Blue reckoned the people complaining to the commission they were fired for being too old "were discharged as part of a series of Resource Actions designed to reduce headcounts and decrease costs,” the memo stated.

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The EEOC dismissed the IT giant's arguments, and said its investigation 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.” Early professional hires is corp speak for college graduates typically in their 20s.

The letter stated many older workers were told their skills were out-of-date yet they were later re-hired as contractors “at a lower rate of pay with fewer benefits.”

“EEOC received corroborating testimony from dozens of witnesses nationwide supporting a discriminatory animus based on age,” the letter stated. “Based on the above, [IBM's] asserted defense does not withstand scrutiny.”

An aggressive approach to significantly reduce the headcount of older workers to make room for early professional hires

At the same time, the watchdog found insufficient evidence to establish violations of America's 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 but concluded there was reasonable cause to believe the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act had been broken. It has asked IBM to resolve the complaints informally through negotiation with the commission and its aggrieved former workers.

"If the commission determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that violations have occurred, it shall endeavor to eliminate the alleged unlawful employment practices by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion," it explained in its letter.

"Having determined that there is reason to believe that violations have occurred, the commission now invites [IBM] to join with it in an effort toward a just resolution of this matter."

In a previous and similar case, IBM settled with former cloud sales star Jonathan Langley who alleged age discrimination. His legal team had won the right to see emails and other internal messages going all the way up to the CEO regarding the corporation's drive to rebalance the "seniority mix" of its workforce. ®

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