IBM settles ageism case with widow of former executive

22 August 2022 Consultancy.uk 2 min. read
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Global professional services giant IBM has settled a lawsuit from the family of an employee who died by suicide after the firm laid him off. Claims from the widow of Jorgen Lohnn had alleged that employees were pushed out of positions on grounds of ageism, citing internal human resource memos noting higher millennial headcounts among competing firms.

Denise Lohnn and IBM reportedly reached a tentative agreement on March 31 2022, according to technology news site The Register. At the time, US District Judge Lewis Liman stayed the case, ahead of a decision whether sensitive documents at the heart of the legal battle would be made public.

When the case emerged, IBM’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Nickle LaMoreaux denied IBM had made efforts to force older employees to leave the company. Suggesting "discrimination of any kind is entirely against our culture and who we are at IBM,” LaMoreaux added that there was never any “systemic age discrimination at our company”.

IBM settles ageism case with widow of former executive

However, when partially redacted internal IBM communications were unsealed, they revealed that some figures at Big Blue had called for the figurative ‘extinction’ of the so-called “dinobabies” at the firm. Soon after, an agreement between IBM and Lohnn seems to have been brokered, and the court has since dismissed the case as settled.

Lohnn, whose husband was a former Client Executive from Connecticut, had suggested his layoff had left him suicidal. Jorgen Lohnn had committed 15 years of service to IBM, ahead of his departure from the firm at the age of 57. Employees designated for layoffs were allowed to apply for open jobs within the company, but the lawsuit brought against IBM suggested that the company discouraged managers from rehiring them.

Similarities have been noted between Lohnn’s case, and hundreds of other separate allegations. Shannon Liss-Riordan, who represents the impacted employees told the New York Times earlier in the year that the filings “reveal that top IBM executives were explicitly plotting with one another to oust older workers from IBM’s work force in order to make room for millennial employees.”

This was backed up by a court deposition from Alan Wild, former Vice President of Human Resources at IBM, which brought to light the company having fired as many as 100,000 ‘older employees’ in 2019. ProPublica added the allegation that between 2013 and 2018, older employees accounted for 60% of job cuts.

The disputes do not only relate to US staff, either. In 2019, IBM agreed a deal with 281 people, after 285 former UK staff brought age discrimination claims against the firm.