The Great Extinction at IBM

A 2018 ProPublica investigation estimated that IBM terminated 20,000+ older workers (40+) in a five-year span. Unsurprisingly, a substantial amount of arbitration and litigation followed. A 2020 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determination states that the EEOC “uncovered top-down messaging from [IBM]’s highest ranks directing managers to engage in an aggressive approach to significantly reduce the headcount of older workers to make room for Early Professional Hires.”

Recently unsealed documents include emails that substantiate these findings. For example, IBM called for the extinction of “dinobabies,” or a plan to systematically replace older workers with younger employees. While IBM has rejected allegations of systematic age discrimination (arguing, for example, that its median employee age is the same as it was 10 years prior), the unsealed internal communications and other developments seem to cut against the company’s claims.

Business Takeaway: While blatant top-down systematic discrimination may be uncommon, this story does highlight the manner in which companies struggle with these kinds of issues. In conjunction with the EEOC’s recent focus on age discrimination cases, this also serves as a reminder of the price (monetary and otherwise) of getting it wrong. Contact us at if you have questions about how to address issues of skill, pay, and tenure without tripping up over issues of age or other illegal bases of discrimination.