NEW YORK — Since last week’s ruling by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that backed up charges IBM had discriminated against older workers, the lawyer waging a class-action lawsuit against Big Blue has had “hundreds of former IBM employees” contact her.
“We’re in the process of signing them up to join our collective action lawsuit or file for individual arbitration,” well-known employment lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan told WRAL TechWire by phone on Tuesday morning.
She is currently representing about 150 former IBM employees — and counting — who are claiming they lost their jobs because of age discrimination. That includes Henry Gerrits, 68, from Cary, who was laid off from IBM last March.
Asked if that included more cases from North Carolina, she replied: “I’m sure. They’re from around the country.”
In the letter last week, EEOC said analysis shows that, between 2013 and 2018, it was primarily older workers (85.85%) in the total potential pool of those considered for layoff.
“EEOC received corroborating testimony from dozens of witnesses nationwide supporting a discriminatory animus based on age,” it read.
Another lawsuit, different tact
In September 2018, Liss-Riordan filed a class-action lawsuit against IBM alleging the tech giant consistently laid off at least 20,000 employees over the age of 40 between 2012 and the present.
IBM operates one of its largest corporate campuses in RTP and employs several thousand people across North Carolina.
IBM laid off an unknown number of workers in North Carolina during that time as it slashed the size of the state-wide workforce, including at its large campus in RTP.
In a separate lawsuit, a New York federal judge ruled ex-employees alleging that IBM targeted older workers for layoffs must arbitrate their claims individually.
US District Judge Paul G Gardephe granted IBM’s motion to dismiss four former employees’ attempt to stop enforcement of a collection action waiver in their separation agreements, as Law60 reported.
He rejected their argument that federal bias laws guaranteed them the right to overturn collection-action waivers they signed, and found that the workers have no “substantive” right to collective action.
Liss-Riordan said the judgment does not affect their case.
“We took another approach,” she explained. “We said if IBM wants to have these cases decided one-by-one, we’ll show them one-by-one. We are filing claims in arbitration for the IBM employees who accepted the severance and signed the arbitration agreement. We also have a collective action proceeding in court in which we are litigating the claims for the employees who did not sign the arbitration agreement.”
Although IBM hoped it could avoid facing these age discrimination claims altogether, she will prove them wrong, she added.
“Part of IBM’s strategy was also to divide and conquer — by requiring confidential individual arbitration, IBM thought it could prevent any employees from benefiting from the knowledge gained from other employees’ cases. But since we are representing so many employees in these individual arbitrations, we can use the knowledge we’ve gained from other cases to help in each case we pursue.”