Big Blue is facing a class action lawsuit after being accused of illegally dismissing thousands of U.S. employees. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the suit alleges that three plaintiffs were fired because of their age. The suit goes on to point out that IBM laid off older employees in disproportionate numbers to younger employees. The complaint also alleges that the company did not hire older individuals for open positions.
According to early reporting by ProPublica and picked up by other outlets, the company was leading tech company in the ‘80s that was groundbreaking in its staffing of women, offering good benefits and other perks to an American workforce of nearly 250,000. This led many to spend their entire career there. Apparently, the company’s fortunes began to wane as increased competition came from newer and younger companies that went global, which led to IBM executives feeling they needed to do the same.
The suit alleges that the company began laying off employees over the 40 in 2012, estimating that the company dismissed 20,000 employees. The plaintiffs were laid off in June of 2017 and ranged from 55 to 67 years of age.
Skill set versus age
IBM pointed out it was simply a matter of changing skill set needed from its workforce. The company also says it is training and retraining its workforce to keep up with the quickly evolving technology arena.
Some actions could be problematic
The complaint says that the company gave no information regarding age discrimination as part of the exit process, but did have them sign away their right to take legal action. Another source claims that the company increased the number of firings and resignations in order to avoid high layoff numbers that would require public disclosure. Some workers were also pushed out and then rehired as contractors. Allegedly, this new corporate culture was not so kind to seasoned employees, with staff reportedly referring to them as “gray hairs” and “old heads.”
Laws protect older employees
Employees and employers are generally aware that each side has rights. While some changes in staffing are unavoidable, it should be done with care and certainly within the guidelines of the law. Each situation is different, so an attorney can be a real asset in interpreting the laws so companies remain compliant and the employees rights are protected regardless of their age. While IBM may be found innocent, the bad press could have been avoided if the situation was handled with more attention to the law.