Plaintiffs Move for Summary Judgment in IBM Arbitration Case

A collection of more than two dozen former International Business Machine Corporation (IBM) employees moved for summary judgment in their lawsuit challenging the enforceability of part of a labor contract they signed. Though the plaintiffs seek relief from alleged violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the present suit simply asks the court to declare both an IBM timing provision and a confidentiality provision unenforceable so the plaintiffs can proceed with their age discrimination cases in arbitration.

The allegations against IBM center on its alleged plan to “systematically reduce its employment of older workers in order to build a younger workforce, pushing out thousands of older workers while hiring younger workers.” IBM instituted this plan in order to compete with companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, the filing says, noting that this case is not the first one against IBM for similar practices.

The plaintiffs take issue with the “very modest severance payment” IBM offered and they accepted in exchange for a release of all claims except for those brought under the ADEA. After  complaints began streaming in, the Southern District of New York consolidated the suits for efficiency.

In this week’s motion, the plaintiffs argue that summary judgment is appropriate because there is no genuine issue of material fact as to the provisions’ lawfulness. The filing explains that the first provision the plaintiffs contest governs the timing of suits that may be brought against the company.

“Under this rule, plaintiffs may file claims of discrimination years after they suffered discrimination by ‘piggybacking’ onto earlier-filed claims, which put the company on notice of allegations that it engaged in illegal discrimination that affected a broad class of workers,” the motion explains. The provision is plainly an attempt to waive a non-waivable substantive right under the ADEA, the plaintiffs argue. Its effect is to impermissibly prevent the vindication of the plaintiffs’ claims in arbitration, which exceeds the scope of IBM’s authority.

The second is a confidentiality provision that “IBM has aggressively wielded in order to block employees pursuing discrimination cases against IBM in arbitration from using evidence in support of their claims that Plaintiffs’ counsel have obtained in other arbitration cases raising the same issues.” According to the filing, the Second Circuit and other courts have struck similar provisions where it “is an undue hindrance to advancing the claim.” The movants also explain that the provision is also unfair because IBM benefits from its experience with repeated ADEA claims, while the plaintiffs are left to “re-invent the proverbial wheel each time.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Lichten & Liss-Riordan P.C., and IBM by Jones Day.