IBM looked to reinvigorate its 'dated maternal workforce'

Court docs reveal older IBMers were labeled 'dinobabies', plus plan to make them 'extinct'


Updated Newly released documents in a lawsuit alleging IBM discriminated against older workers reveal that Big Blue wanted to "correct" its "seniority mix" by weeding out older workers it labelled "dinobabies."

A document unsealed last Friday in the case file of Lohnn vs International Business Machines discloses evidence gathered by the plaintiff in which a person whose identity is redacted applauds "use of the disparaging term 'Dinobabies' to describe older IBM employees, as well as his plan for how to oust them from IBM's workforce, stating his intent to 'accelerate change by inviting the dinobabies (new species) to leave' and make them an Extinct Species'."

The document says the plaintiff also has IBM corporate planning documents that discuss IBM's recruitment plans and detail its workforce composition. That document is described as offering the following detail:

IBM was focused on hiring "Early Professional Hires" (a term IBM frequently uses for young employees fresh out of college or high school), "correcting seniority mix", and other similar terms evidencing strategies to replace older employees with younger employees.

Other evidence described in the document concerns an IBM plan to ask older workers to relocate or leave, with the expectation staff would choose the latter.

In 2017 The Register reported on a remote office consolidation program that made just such a relocate-or-leave offer.

Another document [PDF] revealed last week describes IBM's "dated maternal workforce" and argues "this is what must change." That document also calls for IBM to "Shift headcount mix towards greater % of Early Professional hires."

The second document also contains quotes from correspondence between a person whose identity has been redacted and a human resources team assumed to be IBM's, as follows:

Our millennial population trails competitors. The data below is very sensitive – not to be shared – but wanted to make sure you have it. You will see that while Accenture is 72% millennial we are at 42% with a wide range and many units falling well below that average. Speaks to the need to hire early professionals – and to avoid using downbanding of existing employees as a way to fill jobs. Honestly I think we should stop this practice – it means over-paying, creates blockers and inhibits bringing in new thinking from the outside.

IBM applied to have the documents remain off the public record, but the judge disagreed with that request.

A New York Times report on the filing quotes IBM spokesperson Adam Pratt as stating "IBM never engaged in systemic age discrimination," and explaining that employees were let go "because of shifts in business conditions and demand for certain skills, not because of their age." IBM has also told media that in 2020 median age of its staff remains at 48 – the same as it was in 2010.

The documents and their contents matter, the plaintiffs argue, because IBM's arbitration process for workers includes broad confidentiality agreements that prevent such material coming to light. The processes therefore stymie other former IBMers who feel they may wish to pursue an age discrimination action against Big Blue.

The plaintiffs therefore hoped the court would rule that IBM's arbitration agreement is unenforceable.

The case continues, as does Rusis vs International Business Machines Corp. Hundreds of former IBMers now allege, and are fighting, age discrimination at Big Blue. ®

Updated to add

IBM's HR chief has responded to the lawsuit, insisting "there was and is no systemic age discrimination at our company." We've also learned that the discrimination case was brought on behalf of Jorgen Lohnn, an IBM executive who took his own life after being laid off from the company.

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