IBM Sued by Former Employee for Age Discrimination

A Tuesday complaint filed in the District of Connecticut accuses International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) of violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA) through discriminatory practices. The complainant was 63 years old at the time her position was eliminated by IBM, allegedly on the basis of age discrimination.

According to the filing, the plaintiff worked full-time as a recruiter for IBM since 2014, and as an independent contractor for the company since 2010. In her most recent role, she managed “referrals of IBM executives across all business units.” The plaintiff “was a productive and successful employee and her performance routinely met or exceeded IBM’s expectations,” according to the complaint.

The factual allegations center on IBM’s efforts “to create a significantly younger workforce,” which allegedly resulted in disparate treatment of older employees like the plaintiff.  The complaint contends that since 2012 IBM “began terminating older employees disproportionately to its younger employees, did not offer older employees open positions, and engaged in other tactics targeting its older employees.”

Specifically, IBM treated “substantially younger” employees better by “(a) signaling through its internal and external branding and marketing that IBM wished to hire and/or retain younger persons, (b) applying subjective reduction-in-force criteria designed to screen out older workers; (c) not selecting younger persons for reduction, (d) providing younger workers training opportunities that were not provided to older workers, and (e) transferring younger employees selected for reduction to other positions in IBM.”  

The complaint points to conference presentations, written materials, practices, and policies that emphasized “IBM’s approach to establishing a younger corporate demographic.” As a recruitment policy, the company prioritized hiring millennial generation employees, a task that was shunted to the company’s youngest recruiters with less than three years of professional experience, rather than older employees like the plaintiff.

Another example policy the complaint cites was the directive given to IBM’s consulting services business unit to “‘hire 80% of all hires as early professions’ and to ‘backfill open seats with promotions.’ In this way, older employees would be moved out as the more newly-hired moved up the ranks.”

In March 2018, when the plaintiff was 63, she was informed that her job was being eliminated and she would be permanently laid off that June. She was offered a severance package of one month’s pay and subsidized healthcare coverage.

The plaintiff contends that the company tried to cover up the true nature of its actions, because “although IBM involuntarily terminated Plaintiff, IBM subsequently recorded her as having ‘resigned.’ Plaintiff was also informed that IBM intended to code her termination as ‘retired’ rather than involuntary termination.” The plaintiff notes that two Propublica articles she read concerning the EEOC’s “large-scale investigation of IBM’s discriminatory practices,” prompted her to recognize “the discriminatory methods and practices mentioned, as [she had] experienced them first hand.”

The plaintiff brings both federal and Connecticut law age discrimination claims. For her supposed losses, she requests compensatory damages including “loss of enjoyment of life, emotional pain and suffering, back pay, bonuses, and the value of all other employment benefits.” She also requested ADEA liquidated damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

The plaintiff is represented by Lucas & Varga LLC.