Take a Big Blue cheque and go: IBM settles 281 UK age discrim cases

Bet that won't have been cheap

IBM has paid off 281 people who brought age discrimination claims against it in UK Employment Tribunals – leaving four more cases outstanding.

In a judgment quietly published last week, Big Blue was said to have reached "confidential settlement terms" with 281 people out of the 285 who had raised employment law grievances against it.

"The Tribunal orders that these proceedings are dismissed in respect of such Claimants," said Regional Employment Judge Pirani, formally ending all of these claims on 6 November.

As we reported in October 2018, 285 members of the IBM pension scheme each brought claims in 2010 alleging constructive dismissal and age discrimination.

IBM told The Register: "Having won the primary case challenging revisions to our pension plan made after the 2008 financial crisis, we are pleased to resolve these remaining cases on confidential terms. At each and every stage of the process, IBM rejected any attempt to characterise those changes as age discrimination, and defended our right to make changes to ensure that IBM remains competitive in the marketplace."

The cases come against a backdrop of similar claims brought, with eye-popping details emerging in court filings, against IBM in the US. Catherine Rodgers, formerly a veep in the American tech giant's Global Engagement Office, alleges she was ordered to lie to the country's government about the number of older workers it had laid off – ironically, before being sacked herself, allegedly for pointing out that this a discriminatory policy.

Another ex-IBMer, Jonathan Langley, made court filings claiming that somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 expensive older staff had been sacked and replaced with cheaper 20-somethings over the past five or so years.

IBM's justification for this was said to be corporate FOMO (fear of missing out – it's a yoof term, grandad) over bright graduates picking other employers instead of bringing their smarts under Big Blue's roof.

The alleged sack-all-the-oldies plan was supposedly given the internal codename Operation Baccarat, according to lawyers who successfully forced IBM to produce emails from CEO Ginni Rometty herself which referred to a project by that name. Baccarat is a card game played in casinos. In the North American variant's gameplay, "each player's moves are forced by the cards the player is dealt," according to Chambers Encyclopaedia.

Presumably, IBM would have seen itself as the dealer in the alleged scenario, though it looks like it didn't hold all the cards after all. ®

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