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  • Imagine it's 1980.

  • Mullets are cool.

  • The Empire Strikes Back is playing in theaters.

  • And International Business Machines or IBM is the world's dominant

  • technology firm.

  • It embodies the American Dream with a progressive agenda of equal

  • opportunity and prides itself on a stable workforce.

  • It's so thrilling to

  • see the new IBM personal system - in the hands of an old master.

  • According to this

  • handbook in over 40 years, full-time employees haven't been touched by layoffs.

  • People are a treasured resource and are treated like one.

  • Fast forward to the present.

  • ProPublica estimates IBM has eliminated

  • 20,000 American employees age 40 and over in just the past five years.

  • That's about 60 percent of its estimated US job cuts during that time.

  • How did IBM go

  • from valuing its older workforce to systematically getting rid of them?

  • Through the '80s,

  • technology started shifting rapidly.

  • Among other things, Apple introduced the first Macintosh and took

  • a direct shot at IBM.

  • It appears IBM wants it all.

  • By the early 2000's IBM fell

  • further as new rivals like Google, Facebook, and Amazon took the lead.

  • In our world the speed and tempo of modern living are increasing at an

  • ever-accelerating rate.

  • And as it slipped, IBM had to deal with something most of

  • these competitors didn't have: a large number of experienced and aging

  • employees.

  • They reacted to new setbacks with layoffs

  • and many of them were older workers.

  • ProPublica heard from over 1,400 former IBM employees.

  • Here's what we know.

  • In making staff cuts, IBM has side-stepped

  • US laws and regulations intended to protect workers from age discrimination.

  • In the past, they would get two lists from IBM. One that had ages of people

  • staying and another with ages of those being let go.

  • In 2014

  • IBM stopped giving that information.

  • On top of that, the company required people

  • to sign away their rights to sue for age discrimination in court, in exchange for

  • their severance packages.

  • By signing the documents, laid-off employees waived the

  • right to go to court.

  • They could only pursue their age cases through

  • confidential arbitration.

  • They also have to do it solo, so they couldn't combine

  • forces with other workers who may be claiming similar age discrimination.

  • Studies show arbitration overwhelmingly favors employers.

  • Workers win only

  • 19% of the time, when their cases are arbitrated versus 36%

  • of the time when they go to federal court and 57% in state courts.

  • IBM has also laid off and fired some older workers with review

  • techniques that effectively made their age a disadvantage.

  • Take the case of one

  • business unit that was using a point system to evaluate workers.

  • The more

  • points a person got, the more protected they were from negative changes to

  • employment.

  • But the system itself appeared biased.

  • Employees were given

  • points for being relatively new at a job level, so those who worked there fewer

  • years earned more points than long time IBMers.

  • The bias against older workers is evident when you compare the number of

  • points to years of service.

  • Those with no points worked there an average of more

  • than thirty years.

  • Those with higher points average fifteen years.

  • But the numbers don't reflect worker skills.

  • 80% of older, more

  • long-term employees, the ones with lower points, were rated by the company itself

  • as "good enough to stay at current job levels or be promoted",

  • while only a small

  • percentage of younger employees with high numbers had similar ratings.

  • They've also converted many layoffs into retirements, forcing ex-employees to

  • accept a retirement package or leave with no benefits.

  • They've told remote

  • workers, including older ones who had worked from home for years, to relocate

  • to offices potentially thousands of miles away from their homes.

  • Their options were relocate or resign.

  • In response to all of these findings IBM

  • has said "we are proud of our company and our employees ability to reinvent

  • themselves era after era while always complying with the law."

  • The problem is

  • protection for workers under the law is eroding.

  • In the past few decades, rulings

  • in age discrimination cases have said former employees must prove that there

  • were no factors other than age involved in their job changes, but companies like

  • IBM have made it near impossible to prove that.

  • With nearly 400,000 employees

  • worldwide, IBM is still a tech giant.

  • And how it handles its older workforce could

  • encourage other companies to follow suit, even though a lot of these companies

  • have a younger workforce now.

  • Here's the thing about aging: it happens to everyone

Imagine it's 1980.

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B1 US Vox older age workforce discrimination court

How IBM quietly pushed out 20,000 older workers

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    Evangeline posted on 2018/04/24
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