IBM has been accused of age discrimination practices as court documents reveal executives at the company were concerned IBM didn’t have enough millennial employees, with one leader referring to older employees as “dinobabies” that needed to be made “an extinct species”.
The wife of deceased former IBM employee Jorgen Lohnn suing the tech firm for age discrimination, saying Lohnn lost his job at the company due to IBM’s efforts to “build a younger workforce” so it could compete with “younger technology companies” like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
Lohnn’s wife is one of hundreds of plaintiffs who have begun legal action against IBM with allegations that the company deliberately squeezed out older employees – especially women – to make room for younger staff.
Court filings describe “a systemic companywide scheme over a period of years to decrease the number of older workers at the workers at the company and increase the proportion of younger workers”.
Emails obtained by the plaintiff’s legal counsel show an “animus against older workers” from within IBM’s executive team, caused by concern that competitors such as Accenture were reported to have more millennial staffers.
An executive said Accenture’s higher percentage of millennials – 72 per cent to IBM’s 42 per cent at the time – “[spoke] to the need to hire early professionals” and stop the practice of backfilling jobs with existing staff since it “inhibits bringing in new thinking from the outside”.
Another email shows an IBM higher-up praising the use of the term “dinobabies” to describe older staff alongside a plan to “accelerate change by inviting the ‘dinobabies’ (new species) to leave” so they will be an “extinct species”.
“[IBM’s] dated maternal workforce – this is what must change,” one email said according to the court filings.
“They really don’t understand social or engagement.
“Not digital natives. A real threat for us.”
The documents paint a damning picture of discriminatory practice at IBM, something that plaintiffs in a class action against IBM allege has been a longstanding consequence of the company’s pivot “into fields such as cloud services, big data analytics, mobile and social media”.
In order to remove older staff, IBM is said to have conducted layoffs – internally called ‘Resource Actions’ – from which younger employees were exempt, as well as creating unfavourable employment conditions on new contracts like relocation.
IBM has denied any wrongdoing with a spokesperson telling the New York Times that it has “never engaged in systemic age discrimination”.
“Employees were separated because of shifts in business conditions and demand for certain skills, not because of their age,” the spokesperson said.
In response to the latest reports, IBM’s Chief Human Resources Officer Nickle LaMoreaux sent an email to all employees on the weekend – which it then published online – further rebuffing age discrimination claims.
“Discrimination of any kind is entirely against our culture and who we are at IBM, and there was (and is) no systemic age discrimination at our company,” LaMoreaux said.
“As someone who started at IBM as an intern and spent my entire career at this great company, I also want to emphasise that disrespectful language is not who we are.
“It in no way reflects IBM’s practices or policies.”
LaMoreaux said that, between 2010 and 2020, 37 per cent of new US hires at the company were over 40 and that in 2020 the median age of its US workforce was 48 years old – the same as it was in 2010.