US Court Decisions Enable Workplace Age Discrimination and IBM Knows it

by Vins

In March 2018, a joint investigation by ProPublica and Mother Jones reported on growing leeway and flexibility in interpretation and enforcement of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The world’s leading technology firm, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), appears to be at the forefront of age discrimination within the United States. Mother Jones found that in the past five years, 60 percent of IBM’s total US job terminations have been for workers 40 years or older—totaling over 20,000 American employees. IBM is just one example of many US corporations that have managed to disregard US laws protecting American workers from age discrimination in the workplace—all with the help of United States courts continually weakening the ADEA.

As Mother Jones reported, in the 1980s, IBM used its profits to help underwrite “a broad agenda of racial equality, equal pay for women and an unbeatable offer of great wages and something close to lifetime employment, all in return for unswerving loyalty.” Unfortunately, these efforts were short-lived when high tech companies began going global. Then, as Mother Jones explained,  IBM’s “large number of experienced and aging US employees” became a liability. An confidential IBM planning document reveals that its solution to this problem was to “correct seniority mix,” which amounted to cutting three-quarters of its US workforce and replacing them with primarily “younger, less-experienced and lower-paid workers.”

When employees questioned their terminations, IBM provided almost no information to workers, leaving them to message boards and online forums in order to discover the truth. ProPublica found that the primary reason that IBM and other companies are able to freely discriminate against employees on the basis of their age has been enhanced by a number of important United States court rulings.

Although there are occasional reports of single instances of age discrimination in the workplace, no corporate sources have covered the full extent of IBM’s age discrimination. An exception was an August, 2006 report in the New York Times that covered a court decision on an employee pension case in IBM’s favor.

Sources:

Peter Gosselin, “Eroding Protection Under the Law,” ProPublica, March 22, 2018, https://www.propublica.org/article/americans-age-discrimination-eroding-protection-under-the-law.

Peter Gosselin and Ariana Tobin, “Inside IBM’s Purge of Thousands of Workers Who Have One Thing in Common,” Mother Jones, March 22, 2018, https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2018/03/ibm-propublica-gray-hairs-old-heads/.

Student Researcher: Averi Davis (Syracuse University)

Faculty Researcher: Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)