As I have related here in the past, I was laid off from my job of three years, along with eight or 10 decades-younger colleagues, in 2004. I was 63 at the time.
My co-workers found new jobs within a few weeks or, at most, two or three months and all had several offers to choose from.
A year later, with only two in-person interviews behind me (one of which told me the job had been filled between our 4PM phone call the day before and my arrival at the company's office at 9:00AM the next morning) and deeply in debt, I was forced to sell my home and leave New York City.
This is called age discrimination in the workplace, a subcategory of ageism. Many people deny either one exists. That is a lie. It is real and it is every bit as evil and pernicious as racial, religious, gender and every other kind of discrimination.
In fact, age discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by law, administered by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is supposed to enforce the laws against workplace discrimination.
Note that I said “supposed” to enforce. In the case of age discrimination, over the years court judges have repeatedly sided with employers, weakening the age discrimination laws to make it more difficult for workers to prove discrimination.
In mid-March, ProPublica published its research into how tech giant IBM has eliminated 20,000 of its American workforce, hitting its oldest employees the hardest - 60 percent of layoffs, firings and required retirements affecting people 40 and older:
”Today,” explains ProPublica, “we are reporting that over the past five years IBM has been removing older U.S. employees from their jobs, replacing some with younger, less experienced, lower-paid American workers and moving many other jobs overseas.
“We’ve got documentation and details — most of which are the direct result of a questionnaire filled out by over 1,100 former IBMers.”
Here is a good video overview of some of the information ProPublica uncovered during their investigation:
ProPublica includes in their written report many personal stories:
”Marjorie Madfis, at the time 57, was a New York-based digital marketing strategist and 17-year IBM employee when she and six other members of her nine-person team — all women in their 40s and 50s — were laid off in July 2013. The two who remained were younger men.
“Since her specialty was one that IBM had said it was expanding, she asked for a written explanation of why she was let go. The company declined to provide it.
Paul Henry, a 61-year-old IBM sales and technical specialist who loved being on the road, had just returned to his Columbus home from a business trip in August 2016 when he learned he’d been let go. When he asked why, he said an executive told him to 'keep your mouth shut and go quietly.'
“Henry was jobless more than a year, ran through much of his savings to cover the mortgage and health insurance and applied for more than 150 jobs before he found a temporary slot.
“'If you’re over 55, forget about preparing for retirement,' he said in an interview. 'You have to prepare for losing your job and burning through every cent you’ve saved just to get to retirement.”
There are hundreds of heartbreaking personal stories from laid off IBM workers here. I know how awful it is. I've been where these people are.
Once I realized that I had no choice but to sell my apartment, it took a three-day weekend in bed in the fetal position, weeping uncontrollably until I could pull myself together and make plans to leave the city that had been my home for 40 years. I've never quite gotten over that.
The ProPublica story shows the viciousness with which IBM has jettisoned many of their most experienced and loyal workers. And make no mistake: although ProPublica concentrated their research on IBM, hundreds, maybe thousands of other companies do this every day.
”In making these cuts,” explain the ProPublica reporters, “IBM has flouted or outflanked U.S. laws and regulations intended to protect later-career workers from age discrimination, according to a ProPublica review of internal company documents, legal filings and public records, as well as information provided via interviews and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,000 former IBM employees.”
ProPublica doesn't have a solution and neither do I. But they have put together a crucially important investigative report and a subject you might want to bring up with your local candidates for Congress as the midterm election campaign heats up.
At minimum, the EEOC regulations weakened by court decisions should be restored.
In a followup report two weeks ago, ProPublica had this to say:
”We haven’t received further explanation or response from [IBM] in the weeks since we published. We know these layoffs haven’t ended. Watching IBM Facebook group members have reported that IBM sent a wave of layoff notices in just the past few weeks.”
Here are the links to the parts of the ProPublica investigation report:
Do you or anyone you know have experience with age discrimination in the workplace?