RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – An investigation by website ProPublica published in partnership with Mother Jones accuses IBM of targeting “aging” US workers and flouting age discrimination rules as it cut thousands of jobs over the past several years.

“It slashed IBM’s U.S. workforce by as much as three-quarters from its 1980s peak, replacing a substantial share with younger, less-experienced and lower-paid workers and sending many positions overseas,” the investigation, which was published Thursday, says.

“ProPublica estimates that in the past five years alone, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years.”

The report cited as an example “one confidential planning document” that outlined a “correct seniority mix.”

“In making these cuts, IBM has flouted or outflanked U.S. laws and regulations intended to protect later-career workers from age discrimination, according to a ProPublica review of internal company documents, legal filings and public records, as well as information provided via interviews and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,000 former IBM employees.”

Asked for comment, IBM spokesperson Edward Barbini said: “We are proud of our company and our employees’ ability to reinvent themselves era after era, while always complying with the law. Our ability to do this is why we are the only tech company that has not only survived but thrived for more than 100 years.”

Key findings, according to ProPublica, include:

  • Denied older workers information the law says they need in order to decide whether they’ve been victims of age bias, and required them to sign away the right to go to court or join with others to seek redress.
  • Targeted people for layoffs and firings with techniques that tilted against older workers, even when the company rated them high performers. In some instances, the money saved from the departures went toward hiring young replacements.
  • Converted job cuts into retirements and took steps to boost resignations and firings. The moves reduced the number of employees counted as layoffs, where high numbers can trigger public disclosure requirements.
  • Encouraged employees targeted for layoff to apply for other IBM positions, while quietly advising managers not to hire them and requiring many of the workers to train their replacements.
  • Told some older employees being laid off that their skills were out of date, but then brought them back as contract workers, often for the same work at lower pay and fewer benefits.

The website noted that “IBM declined requests for the numbers or age breakdown of its job cuts.”

Read the full report online.

IBM employs sveral thousand people at its campus in RTP and across North Carolina.

The company has declined to disclose how many workers it has in the state and in the US.

Alliance@IBM, which sought unsuccessfully to unionize the company’s workforce, complained for years about layoffs and the offshoring of jobs to cut costs.