March 27, 2019

A group of ex-employees filed a lawsuit that accuses the tech giant of failing to comply with a law requiring companies to disclose the ages of people over 40 who have been laid off. The suit also alleges that the company has improperly prevented workers from combining to challenge their ousters.

A group of former employees has filed a lawsuit against IBM that accuses the tech giant of failing to comply with a federal law that requires companies to disclose the ages of people they lay off who are 40 or older. The suit, filed in federal district court in New York City, also alleges that the company has improperly prevented workers from combining to challenge their ousters.

It is the second broad legal action against IBM since a 2018 ProPublica story that documented widespread age discrimination by the company in its global restructuring. The former employees are asking the court to invalidate a written agreement that IBM requires its employees to sign to receive severance pay. Under the document’s provisions, workers agree to give up any right to challenge their dismissal in court.

Until now, most age-related legal actions contesting an IBM layoff have been brought by the rare ex-worker who refused to sign the agreement and left without severance. If the district court were to agree that IBM’s separation agreement is invalid, it could open the company up to lawsuits by tens of thousands of older workers IBM has laid off in recent years.

Today’s lawsuit and the string of other cases filed in the wake of ProPublica’s story face steep odds as a result of decisions by the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts that curtailed workers’ ability to challenge employers’ staffing decisions. The rationale is to limit what federal judges view as cumbersome, costly cases that hamstring both employers and the courts.

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The New York lawsuit opens a new legal front, challenging the IBM agreement’s one-at-a-time restriction as a violation of workers’ rights under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The law allows laid-off workers to take legal action against their employers as a group, either in court or arbitration.

“IBM against one person is not a fair fight,” said David Webbert, an Augusta, Maine, lawyer who, together with his partner, Jeffrey Young, and a Washington-based law firm, filed the new case. “IBM against thousands of people who’ve been laid off because of their age, that’s a legitimate legal proceeding.

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