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IBM Fired as Many as 100,000 in Recent Years, Lawsuit Shows

Olivia Carville

(Bloomberg) -- International Business Machines Corp. has fired as many as 100,000 employees in the last few years in an effort to boost its appeal to millennials and make it appear to be as “cool” and “trendy” as Amazon and Google, according to a deposition from a former vice president in an ongoing age discrimination lawsuit.

The technology company is facing several lawsuits accusing it of firing older workers, including a class-action case in Manhattan and individual civil suits filed in California, Pennsylvania and Texas last year.

“We have reinvented IBM in the past five years to target higher value opportunities for our clients,” IBM said in a statement. “The company hires 50,000 employees each year.”

Big Blue has struggled with almost seven straight years of shrinking revenue. In the last decade, the company has fired thousands of people in the U.S., Canada and other high-wage jurisdictions in an effort to cut costs and retool its workforce after coming late to the cloud-computing and mobile-tech revolutions. The number of IBM employees has fallen to its lowest point in six years, with 350,600 global workers at the end of 2018 -- a 19% reduction since 2013.

In a deposition in one of the civil cases, Alan Wild, former vice president of human resources, said IBM had “laid off 50,000 to 100,000 employees in just the last several years,” according to a court document filed Tuesday in Texas.

In his deposition, Wild said 108-year-old IBM faced talent recruitment problems and determined one way to show millennials that IBM was not “an old fuddy duddy organization” was to make itself appear “as [a] cool, trendy organization” like Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc., according to the document. To do that, IBM set out to slough off large portions of its older workforce using rolling layoffs over the course of several years, according to court documents.

This strategy deliberately targeted older workers like the plaintiff, Texas-based Jonathan Langley, 61, who has accused IBM of firing him after more than 24 years because of his age, according to the document. IBM filed a motion to dismiss Langley’s case. On Tuesday, his lawyers filed an opposition to that motion.

The opposition included comments from Wild’s deposition, which was obtained under oath and is still under seal. Wild worked at IBM for almost eight years and left his role last October, according to his LinkedIn page. Wild said he couldn’t comment on the issue.

IBM began working to “correct [its] seniority mix” in 2014, according to the class-action lawsuit filed in New York. The company started firing older workers and replacing them with millennials, who IBM’s consulting department said “are generally much more innovative and receptive to technology than baby boomers.”

Last month, Armonk, New York-based IBM cut about 2,000 employees. “We are continuing to re-position our team to align with our focus on the high value segments of the IT market – while aggressively hiring in critical new areas that deliver value for our clients and IBM,” the company said in a statement at the time.

Last March, ProPublica published an extensive investigation that found IBM had fired an estimated 20,000 U.S. employees ages 40 or older in the past five years.

Read more about IBM managers discussing ways to thin older ranks

In 2015, an IBM spokesman denied a Forbes report that the company would be laying off 100,000 employees – or a quarter of its workforce -- in the coming years, dismissing the claims in an interview with USA Today as “ridiculous” and “baseless.”

(Updates with details in the ninth paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Olivia Carville in New York at ocarville1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Molly Schuetz, Andrew Pollack

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