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Laid-off IBM workers allege age bias in lawsuit

Laid-off IBM workers allege age bias in lawsuit

Former employees say IBM was only interested in recent college grads, a charge the company calls baseless

Three former IBM employees, all laid off last year, have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging they were victims of age discrimination.

One of the employees, John McCormack, 46, worked at the IBM semiconductor manufacturing facility at Hopewell Junction, N.Y. He was told several months before his termination that he would be laid off in December 2013.

In turn, McCormack looked for other jobs at IBM and identified at least 15 internal positions. He applied, but was denied them all, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that IBM managers and supervisors told him that these positions were targeted for younger persons who recently graduated college. McCormack responded that he was a recent 2012 college graduate, "but this did not change anything," the suit claims.

Indeed, the lawsuit alleges that IBM "adopted and publicized a corporate policy of advertising for vacancies in a manner directed to, and only to, young, recent college graduates."

IBM called the allegations baseless.

Doug Shelton, an IBM spokesman, said in an emailed statement that "IBM's long-standing commitment to workforce diversity recognizes the contributions that all individuals make to IBM's success, regardless of age. At any given time, IBM has thousands of open positions in the U.S. -- many of them are entry level positions in our business' strategic growth areas."

Shelton said that while IBM actively recruits top college graduates for such positions, "the majority of IBM hiring is of experienced professionals."

The facts alleged in plaintiffs' complaint "contradict the very premise of age discrimination," said Shelton. "Specifically, the plaintiffs were all hired as experienced professionals in their 30s, 40s or 50s," he said.

The two other plaintiffs are Ron Shelton, 49, and Mark Lingl, 58. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

It may be harder for IBM employees to make similar allegations in the years ahead.

During layoffs, IBM used to provide details of layoffs to employees, including a list of the age, title and number of employees selected for a job cut. But it stopped doing sothis year.

These resource action documents were provided to help employees determine whether they had an age discrimination case, and agreeing not to sue for age was a condition of severance. Instead of providing these lists of other employees who were cut, IBM is now allowing employees to use arbitration to bring an age discrimination claim, reported Bloomberg.

The AARP called this shift to arbitration by IBM troubling, and said the lack of disclosure prevents age discriminatios victims from joining together in a lawsuit.

Shelton and Lingl were offered severance packages, "which they could access only if they signed general releases" freeing the employer from liability in age discrimination, according to the lawsuit.

But the lawsuit alleges that IBM offered the severance packages "fraudulently and in bad faith, as the premise of the offer was the claim that the company was engaging in a nationwide RIF (reduction in force), not that the company was purging older employees and replacing them" with recent college graduates.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Read more about legal in Computerworld's Legal Topic Center.

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