IBM accused of targeting older workers as 'up to 100,000' laid off

IBM faces accusations of running a "fire-and-hire" scheme to make its workforce younger.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

IBM has been accused of running a "fire-and-hire discriminatory scheme", aimed at purging old blood and replacing it with younger employees in a bid to reinvent itself as a "trendy organization" attractive to millennials. 

The accusations figure in court documents in an age-discrimination case that IBM is facing, brought by Jonathan Langley, a former world program director and sales lead for IBM Bluemix, who filed a lawsuit last year after being laid off in 2017 when he was aged 59 years.  

IBM has filed a motion to dismiss the case, and on Tuesday Langley's lawyers filed an opposition to it, which included a deposition from former vice president of IBM HR, Alan Wild, who stated that IBM has terminated 50,000 to 100,000 employees in the past several years, at the same time as aggressively hiring. 

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According to court documents obtained by The Register, Wild said the 108-year-old IBM had settled on a strategy to solve its talent recruitment problems by showing millennials that IBM was not "an old fuddy-duddy organization" and reinventing itself "as a cool, trendy" place like Google and Amazon. 

"When people look at IBM, we're blue and we're 100 years old. So it's a question of in the eyes of people coming to join the organization, how do we show IBM as a different place to the one they have in their mind?" said Wild, according to the court document. 

IBM would do this by cutting off its older workforce using rolling layoffs over several years, according to court documents. 

Langley's lawyers argued that the layoff rounds deliberately targeted older workers by "culling employees in higher band levels – with the quiet understanding that employees with higher band levels are almost assuredly going to be older workers". 

At the same time IBM "flat out exempted Early Professional Hires", who are typically younger, from being marked for layoffs.

The court documents also note that 50% of IBM's current workforce has been hired in the past five years, while pointing to a 2017 interview (4:22) with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty who boasted that 50% of IBM's workforce are millennials.  

As noted by Bloomberg, IBM is also facing a class-action law suit and individual civil suits filed in California, Pennsylvania, and Texas last year. 

The company's global workforce shrank to 350,600 at the end of 2018, down 19 percent compared with 2013. 

"We have reinvented IBM in the past five years to target higher value opportunities for our clients," IBM said in a statement to Bloomberg. "The company hires 50,000 employees each year."

The latest phase of this reinvention was its recent $34bn acquisition of enterprise Linux company Red Hat, which is the biggest tech acquisition ever. The move is aimed at boosting IBM's cloud business to better compete with Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft.  

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