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IBM Faces Age Discrimination AccusationsIBM Faces Age Discrimination Accusations

A ProPublica investigation alleges that IBM slashed its US workforce with cuts that fell more heavily on older workers and protected younger workers.

Mitch Wagner

March 22, 2018

3 Min Read
IBM Faces Age Discrimination Accusations

IBM engages in systematic discrimination against older workers, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization.

As the high-tech market became more challenging, IBM "reacted with a strategy that, in the words of one confidential planning document, would 'correct seniority mix,'" according to the report, published in conjunction with a feature from Mother Jones magazine titled "Cutting 'Old Heads' at IBM."

IBM "slashed its U.S. workforce by as much as three-quarters from its 1980s peak, replacing a substantial share with younger, less-experienced and lower-paid workers and sending many positions overseas. ProPublica estimates that in the past five years alone, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years."

The report continues, "In making these cuts, IBM has flouted or outflanked U.S. laws and regulations intended to protect later-career workers from age discrimination, according to a ProPublica review of internal company documents, legal filings and public records, as well as information provided via interviews and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,000 former IBM employees."

Figure 1: IBM building in Amsterdam. Photo by Mark Ahsmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. IBM building in Amsterdam. Photo by Mark Ahsmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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IBM "[t]argeted people for layoffs and firings with techniques that tilted against older workers, even when the company rated them high performers. In some instances, the money saved from the departures went toward hiring young replacements," ProPublica says.

In response to ProPublic's queries, an IBM spokesperson told the organization: "We are proud of our company and our employees' ability to reinvent themselves era after era, while always complying with the law. Our ability to do this is why we are the only tech company that has not only survived but thrived for more than 100 years," according to the report.

We have a query in to IBM this morning; we haven't heard back from them.

ProPublica alleges that IBM engaged in a strategic push to tilt the workforce toward millennials, as part of its shift to cloud services, big data analytics, mobile, security and social media.

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About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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