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Report: IBM has been discriminating against older employees for years

Looking for a new job? If you’re over a certain age, you may not be welcome at IBM.

On Thursday, a new report by ProPublica and Mother Jones alleges that the tech giant pushes out employees over 40 from their jobs by sidelining them, firing them, laying them off or forcing their rushed retirement, according to internal documents and personal stories provided by over 1,000 ex-IBM workers. In fact, ProPublica estimates that the company has cut more than 20,000 employees who are over 40 — a number that covers 60% of its total U.S. job eliminations — in the past five years.

Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), employers cannot discriminate against older workers. IBM has refuted the claims of age discrimination. “We are proud of our company and our employees’ ability to reinvent themselves era after era, while always complying with the law,” the company said in a statement following the report. “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.”

IBM was once known as a company where your loyalty would be rewarded with the stability of a job you could grow in for your entire career. But the stories of former IBM employees tell a different story.

Report: IBM cuts older employees to ‘correct seniority mix’

After falling behind its competitors, IBM decided to shift its focus to cloud services and big data analytics in 2014. And as part of that shift, the company allegedly began targeting millennials over older employees. In presentations to senior IBM executives, a new goal was reportedly laid out: to “shift headcount mix towards greater percentage of early professional hires” and to “correct seniority mix.”

To make this correction happen smoothly, IBM started pushing its legal weight. After 2014, the company stopped providing lists that included the ages of the people being impacted by job cuts. To get around the ADEA’s public disclosure requirement of “knowing and voluntary” waived consent, IBM changed its severance policy for layoffs. Employees no longer had to waive their right to sue on the basis of age bias to receive it —but now, they could only pursue their age discrimination cases through private arbitration, a process that overwhelmingly favors employers.

There were other ways that IBM reportedly made its workplace inhospitable to older employees. The company changed its decades-old policy that supported telecommuting. Now, employees need to commute to distant locations thousands of miles away or face resignation, which had an impact on older employees.

“They basically knew older employees weren’t going to do it,” ex-IBM product manager Eileen Maroney, 63, said. “Older people aren’t going to move. It just doesn’t make any sense.” When Maroney was ordered to move from Aegean, South Carolina to Raleigh, North Carolina or face resignation, she resigned.

According to internal communications obtained by reporters, IBM managers also were discouraged from rehiring older workers.

Words were not matching with actions. Employees said they were let go for having outdated skills, but were then rehired as contractors with fewer benefits and less pay. In a particularly bitter twist, some laid-off workers said they were told to train their overseas replacement before they left.

In other cases, IBM employees told ProPublica that they felt forced to take a “voluntary” retirement or be fired. When 33-year IBM veteran Lorilynn King received her retirement papers, she wrote back in response: “It was never my plan to retire earlier than at least age 60 and I am not committing to retire. I have been informed that I am impacted by a resource action effective on 2016-08-22, which is my last day at IBM, but I am NOT retiring.”

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