In March, a ProPublica and Mother Jones report put the spotlight on years of reports by laid-off IBM employees that they had been targeted due to their age. In May, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began a nationwide investigation into age discrimination complaints against the company. Also in May, Jonathan Langley, an Austin-based IBM employee, filed a lawsuit charging age discrimination in his firing.
And now, a lawyer—who famously sued Uber for allegedly misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors—has picked up the ball and is expected to run hard with it.
Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan today filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of three former IBM employees in their 50s and 60s, charging that when IBM fired them earlier this year, the company discriminated against them based on age.
More former employees are likely to join the class of plaintiffs; we at Spectrumfor years have heard anecdotal reports from individuals that believe they were targeted for layoffs because of their age.
In an emailed statement, IBM indicated that any workforce changes were “about skills, not age. In fact, since 2010 there is no difference in the age of our U.S. workforce, but the skills profile has changed dramatically.”
This statement is hard to verify, because several years ago IBM stopped including any data about its U.S. workforce in its annual report—it no longer even reports the size of the workforce, much less the average age or skills profile.
Comments from former employees to the Facebook group Watching IBM were generally supportive of the class action suit. Said one commenter, “Many hundreds of people that I know, that were laid off in the March action, were part of the so-called strategic imperatives. Everyone in my group was over 50 and most of the people that I know personally were all over 45.”
Said another, reacting to the official IBM statement, “If our skills were obsolete, they would not have had us train our replacements in other countries before throwing us under the bus. They would have abandoned our obsolete practices.”
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.