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August 17, 2022

IBM settles ‘dinobabies’ age discrimination case

Big Blue has agreed a settlement in a case which exposed apparent ageist attitudes in the company.

By Matthew Gooding

IBM has settled an age discrimination lawsuit brought by the widow of one of its former executives who killed himself after being laid off by the company. The case shone a light on what appeared to be institutional ageism at the US tech giant.

IBM has settled its 'dinobabies' age discrimination court case
IBM has settled an age discrimination court case (Photo courtesy of Mrkit99/iStock)

The case of Lohann vs International Business Machines was settled on Monday according to documents newly released by the Southern District Court of New York, where it was being heard.

It had been brought by Denise Lohann, who claimed her husband Jorgen Lohann, killed himself directly as a result of being unfairly made redundant by IBM in 2016. Jorgen Lohann, who was 57 at the time, had worked at IBM for 15 years.

Details of the settlement have not been disclosed. Tech Monitor has approached IBM for comment.

How the IBM ‘dinobabies’ age discrimination case unfolded

Tech Monitor reported in February how internal documents, unsealed as part of the case, showed ageist practices were apparently common at IBM at the time.

The documents showed communications between two executives, in which one “applauds the use of the disparaging term ‘dinobabies’” to describe the older IBM employees as part of a “plan to oust them from IBM’s workforce”. According to the court documents, “he describes his plan to ‘accelerate change by inviting the dinobabies (new species) to leave’ and make them an ‘extinct species‘”.

Both executives, whose names and positions were redacted in the filing, have since left IBM. Other documents referred to the company’s “dated maternal workforce” and called for IBM to “shift headcount mix towards greater percent of early professional hires.”

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IBM has disclosed that the median age of its staff in 2020 was 48, unchanged from 2010. This means it is significantly higher than some of its rivals. The company’s chief human resources officer Nickle LaMoreaux issued a statement following the disclosures, declaring that “discrimination of any kind is entirely against our culture and who we are at IBM, and there was (and is) no systemic age discrimination at our company”.

Ageism in IT is a recurring problem

The ‘dinobabies’ case is not the first time IBM has faced an age discrimination lawsuit. In 2019 it agreed confidential settlements with 281 out of 285 former UK employees who alleged constructive dismissal and age discrimination, and it has faced other similar actions in the US.

Indeed, the IT sector as a whole needs to do more to ensure it is inclusive of all age and social demographics, according to Professor Andrea Rosales of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, co-author of a study on ageism in tech which found ageist attitudes exist at IT companies around the world.

Speaking to Tech Monitor earlier this year, Professor Rosales said: “For older staff, the best time to work may be while their kids are at school, but others may prefer to start at midday and work into the evening. But you still need to have opportunities to be social and interact with other people.”

She added: “Companies need to identify policies that might exclude minority groups, and find ways their teams can work remotely but together.”

Read more: Diversity in AI will take more than just scholarships

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