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New Age Discrimination Lawsuit Against IBM Alleges AI Replacement

Two long-term employees allege IBM unlawfully fired them this year based on age. The two women state IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced plans to replace thousands of employees with AI technology, particularly human resources. They claim these layoffs disproportionately impacted older employees.

The women assert company leaders used discriminatory and coded language when discussing why they decided to lay off certain employees. Patricia Onken, who was 66 at the time of her termination, worked for IBM for over 40 years in various positions, including human resources. Onken participated in several layoffs at IBM and alleges the company evaluated an employee's years left when assessing who they should cut, referring to it as "runway" length and citing the need for employees with "new skills" or "new energy." She received the layoff list that included her name and asserted the six people identified were "some of the Company's oldest and most senior HR partners." IBM laid off 50% of its HR employees, with 20 of the 30ish employees aged 50 or older. Onken alleges most of these employees are top performers. She states that IBM divided her job duties among four younger, less-experienced employees. Pamela Wimbish worked for IBM for 20 years in human resources and was 62 at her termination. Wimbism has similar allegations of working as a top performer and being replaced by a younger, more junior employee. 

Both women assert they worked hard and kept up with evolving technologies, yet the company perceived older workers as less capable of adapting to changes in technology. The lawsuit notes that IBM transferred human resources functions to call centers initially and then chatbots and artificial intelligence tools. These tools allowed the company to reduce the number of people needed to run the departments. IBM has faced multiple lawsuits for age discrimination in the last several years.