RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney who has represented workers against Uber, Amazon and Google, on Monday filed an age discrimination suit against IBM. The news comes amid a report that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has consolidated other complaints into a single investigation of IBM employment practices.

The attorney says she represents three former IBM employees in a class-action suit.

One of the three is from Cary: Henry Gerrits, 67, according to media reports. The other named plaintiffs are Edvin Rusis, 59, of Laguna Niguel, California, and Phil McGonegal, 55, of Atlanta.

Henry Gerrits from his LinkedIn page

Gerrits worked at IBM from 1985 through June of this year, according to the lawsuit. He was told he was being laid off on March 29.

“Plaintiff Gerrits was one of the oldest employees in his group,” the lawsuit explains.. “Although Plaintiff Gerrits applied to several positions through IBM’s internal hiring platform for which he was qualified, he did not receive any response to his applications.”

The plantiffs say IBM has refused to hire older job applicants, in violation of the federal and state laws, according to Reuters.

“IBM has discriminated, and continues to discriminate, against its older workers, both by laying them off disproportionately to younger workers and by not hiring them for open positions,” the lawsuit says.

“Over the last several years, IBM has been in the process of systematically laying off older employees in order to build a younger workforce. Between 2012 and the present, IBM has laid off at least 20,000 employees over the age of forty. Such discriminatory layoff and hiring practices constitute unlawful discrimination under the ADEA [Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ] and state antidiscrimination law.”

Liss-Riordan told the Boston Globe that age bias is a “rampant problem” in the tech sector.

“IBM appears to be trying to change its image by targeting older workers for layoffs,” the Globe quoted her as saying. “This is illegal. We have laws in this country to prevent discrimination by age. These are employees who have devoted years of their lives to this company only to be shown the door.”

News of the EOC investigation first surfaced in May. Bloomberg said a source told the news service about the EOC consolidation. The EOC declined comment.

In an email statement to Bloomberg, which reported about the suit, an IBM spokesperson defended the company’s hiring practices.

“Changes in our workforce are about skills, not age,” Ed Barbini told Bloomberg. “In fact, since 2010 there is no difference in the age of our U.S. workforce, but the skills profile of our employees has changed dramatically. That is why we have been and will continue investing heavily in employee skills and retraining — to make all of us successful in this new era of technology.’’

The suit includes information included in a report by ProPublica earlier this year that analyzed IBM employment and found that thousands of workers older than 40 had been fired in recent years.

“Over the last several years, IBM has been in the process of systematically laying off older employees in order to build a younger workforce,” the former employees claim in the suit, according to Bloomberg.

The ProPublica investigation demonstrated that IBM “has flouted or outflanked laws intended to protect older workers from discrimination,” the news site said.

“More than five years after IBM stopped providing legally required disclosures to older workers being laid off, the EEOC’s New York district office has begun consolidating individuals’ complaints from across the country and asking the company to explain practices recounted in the ProPublica story,” ProPublica reported.

The ex-IBMers have “spoken with investigators and people familiar with the agency’s actions,” ProPublica said.

“[A] dozen ex-IBM employees from California, Colorado, Texas, New Jersey and elsewhere allowed ProPublica to view the status screens for their cases on the agency’s website,” it reported.

“The screens show the cases being transferred to EEOC’s New York district office shortly after the March 22 publication of ProPublica’s original story, and then being shifted to the office’s investigations division, in most instances, between April 5 and April 10.”

Other reports of age discrimination suits against IBM have emerged in the past several months.

In March, ProPublica reported that IBM had “ousted an estimated 20,000 U.S. employees ages 40 and over since 2014, about 60 percent of its American job cuts during those years. In some instances, it earmarked money saved by the departures to hire young replacements in order to, in the words of one internal company document, ‘correct seniority mix.’”

If the judge in the case allows the suit to proceed as a class action, an employment lawyer who isn’t involved in the case told Bloomberg that IBM could end up in a long court battle and might have to pay millions of dollars to former workers.

IBM operates one of its largest corporate campuses in RTP and employs several thousand people across North Carolina.