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IBM exec called older workers “dinobabies” who should go “extinct,” lawsuit says

Fictional characters (and dinosaurs) Earl Sinclair and Baby Sinclair from the TV series, Dinosaurs.
Enlarge / Earl Sinclair and Baby Sinclair (not actual IBM employees).

A former high-level IBM executive wrote an internal message calling older workers “dinobabies” who should go “extinct,” according to a plaintiff’s filing in an age-discrimination lawsuit against IBM.

“In arbitration, Plaintiff’s counsel have obtained evidence showing high level executive communications demonstrating highly incriminating animus against older workers by” two former IBM executives who left the company in 2020, said the court filing submitted on Friday. The executives’ names and their positions were redacted. In one communication, an executive “applauds the use of the disparaging term ‘dinobabies’ to describe the older IBM employees” and described a “plan to oust them from IBM‟s workforce,” the court filing said.

In the message, “he describes his plan to ‘accelerate change by inviting the “dinobabies” (new species) to leave’ and make them an ‘Extinct species,'” the filing said. “In another email, [name redacted] describes IBM’s ‘dated maternal workforce—this is what must change. They really don’t understand social or engagement. Not digital natives. A real threat for us,'” the filing said.

“In one email, [name redacted] warns her team: ‘I’m sure you all know this but as a reminder, keep data on age very limited and when in doubt check with legal,'” the filing said.

“Age animus from IBM’s highest ranks”

The new filing was made to support a motion for summary judgment by plaintiff Denise Lohnn, who filed the lawsuit against IBM in July 2021 in US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Denise Lohnn is executor of the estate of her deceased husband, Jorgen Lohnn, who committed suicide after being laid off by IBM.

Evidence from the internal communications “reflects age animus from IBM’s highest ranks,” Lohnn’s filing alleged. Ginni Rometty was IBM’s CEO during the time period discussed in the filing. Rometty retired at the end of 2020 and was replaced by Arvind Krishna.

IBM: Dinobabies comment “does not reflect company practices”

IBM provided a statement to Ars that said, “Some language in emails between former IBM executives that has been reported is not consistent with the respect IBM has for its employees and as the facts clearly show, it does not reflect company practices or policies.” A New York Times article about the “dinobabies” email quotes an IBM spokesperson as saying that “employees were separated because of shifts in business conditions and demand for certain skills, not because of their age.”

IBM also defended its hiring practices in a memo yesterday to all employees from Chief Human Resources Officer Nickle LaMoreaux.

“The facts are clear: between 2010 and 2020, IBM exited whole lines of business and reinvented itself for an entirely new era of technology and the skills it requires. Amidst those significant changes, IBM never engaged in systemic age discrimination,” the memo said.

Between 2010 and 2020, according to yesterday’s memo, “37 percent of all US hires at IBM were over the age of 40” and “IBM hired more than 10,000 people in the US over the age of 50 and 1,500 over the age of 60.” In 2020, “26 percent of IBM’s US workforce had been with the company for 20 years or more,” and the “median age of IBM’s US workforce was 48, precisely where it was in 2010 and six years older than the 2020 median age of all US workers,” IBM said.

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