Appeals Court Throws Out IBM Age Discrimination Waiver

May 4, 2005 ( - A former IBM engineer at the computer giant's Rochester, Minnesota office won a second chance to press age discrimination claims relating to his IBM layoff when an appeals court overturned a lower court decision in the case.

>The US 8 th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a ruling by US District Judge Joan Ericksen that sided with IBM, asserting instead that plaintiff Dale Thomforde had not legally given up his right to sue IBM for age discrimination.

Senior Circuit Judge David Hansen, in writing for the court, said that the agreement Thomforde signed as part of his 2001 layoff did not meet the notice and waiver requirements of the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act (OWBPA). The document signed was entitled “General Release and Covenant Not to Sue,” according to the ruling.

In proceedings before Ericksen and before the appeals judges, IBM argued that Thomforde’s age discrimination claims couldn’t legally stand because he had agreed not to pursue them when he left the company. Thomforde claimed he had never knowingly given up his litigation rights.

Commenting that they could “easily see how a participant under this agreement” could be confused about his or her legal rights, the appeals panel ruled that the IBM agreement “lack(ed) clarity” and was “not written in a manner calculated to be understood by the intended participants” as was required by the OWBPA in order for participants to legally give up their discrimination suit rights.

An IBM spokeswoman told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the company was sticking to its contention that Thomforde was not discriminated against when he was laid off. “IBM is confident it will ultimately prevail on the merits of the case,” said Kendra Collins, according to the newspaper. “The (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) EEOC has already rejected the plaintiff’s claim that he was discriminated against on the basis of age.”

Ten other former IBM workers have sued IBM for age discrimination in California, arguing the same language confused them. A US District judge dismissed those claims. The workers are waiting to see if an appeals court there will hear their case.

The appeals court decision is here.