IBM exec sues for $5 million, claims he’ll be downgraded after childbirth • The Register
A former IBM product manager has sued Big Blue, claiming the company discriminated against her because she went on maternity leave to have twins.
According to a complaint in October 2019 [PDF] Filed in the Southern District of New York, Catherine Lockinger worked as a product manager for IBM’s internal enterprise content management and publishing system.
A month later, Lockinger informed her supervisor that she was expecting twins and received congratulations and statements of support. Then in April 2020, a month before Lockinger left to give birth, she was told “her position was ‘safe,’ but when she returned to IBM she found she had been demoted.
Around September 21, 2020, near the end of Lockinger’s maternity leave, the woman who had taken over as Lockinger’s direct report reportedly informed her “that she would no longer serve as product owner of Enterprise CMS,” Lockinger said: “‘ The business couldn’t wait for you.'”
And when Lockinger returned to work the following month, she was not given an equivalent position. She was reassigned as Group Product Manager for Sales Enablement Tools within the Performance Marketing department.
“The group product manager position had not previously existed, lacked a clear mission or even a job description, and oversaw product owners of non-essential tools and services, making the position appear unnecessary and prone to budget cuts or reorganizations,” the complaint explained .
And Lockinger was demoted two levels in the organizational hierarchy, which is all the more humiliating, the complaint says. Especially since her superiors asked her to train her successor to take on her role as product owner for IBM’s internal CMS.
The complaint includes comments from colleagues and managers that Lockinger understood to mean that IBM believed she could not operate effectively now that she had children.
“This discriminatory and paternalistic perception that Lockinger may or may not have an interest in pursuing her career because she has children was dead wrong as Lockinger wanted to pursue her career while also being a mother,” the complaint reads.
And the complaint notes that a male colleague, who had a child in 2020, gave up taking parental leave “in order to be eligible for a promotion, which was not an option for Lockinger as a woman, confirming Lockinger’s gender was disadvantaged. “
HR in action
Then, in December 2020, Lockinger put her oral objections in writing, and according to the complaint, retaliation began. A draft positive performance review became “drastically different” in January 2021 than what had been presented to Lockinger the previous month.
When Lockinger filed a formal complaint with IBM’s human resources department, she was initially told that there had been no violation of IBM policy since she had been absent for 12 weeks.
“When Lockinger pointed out that the IBM manual provided for the 20 weeks of leave Lockinger took in addition to the laws granting Lockinger leave, [her HR contact] responded that the policy was ‘open to interpretation’, which really meant that IBM would distort the policy as necessary to avoid taking action to respond to Lockinger’s complaint,” the lawsuit reads.
In the months that followed, Lockinger unsuccessfully appealed her treatment to IBM’s Concerns & Appeals organization. It was also not possible for her to go elsewhere within the company. And in April 2021, convinced that IBM had given her a futureless placeholder job to oust her, Lockinger was “constructively fired” — or forced to quit or retire by a hostile work environment, the lawsuit states.
Lockinger is seeking $5 million in damages — $2 million in monetary damages and $3 million “as punishment for [IBM’s] reprehensible conduct” for violating New York’s human rights law.
Lockinger’s attorney and IBM did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the research results [PDF] As published last year by the University of Amherst’s Center for Employment Equity, approximately 5,300 pregnancy discrimination allegations are filed each year with either the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or state Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs), and it is believed that these only account for around 2 percent of incidents of discrimination during pregnancy.
The study estimates that 250,000 women are denied housing related to their pregnancy each year and suggests that this is a conservative figure as 36 percent of the women who said they needed housing did not consult their employer.
“Despite an overall higher success rate in receiving benefits than other forms of gender discrimination, the majority (74 percent) of pregnancy notifications result in no financial benefit or required job transfer through the EEOC process,” the study reads. “Of the 23 percent of fees that receive a monetary benefit, the average benefit is only $17,976 and the median benefit is only $8,000. These financial benefits are lower than those awarded for other gender discrimination charges.”
According to EEOC data, in 2021, 27 percent of pregnancy discrimination cases were decided in favor of the complainant, about four percentage points more or less than since 2010.
Wendy Musell, managing partner at the law firm of Wendy Musell and legal counsel at employment law specialist Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, said The registry in a telephone interview pregnancy discrimination is still a problem in the workplace.
“If we look at what has happened during COVID, we know that women’s care responsibilities have been disproportionately affected,” Musell said. “So you’re already seeing a lower proportion of women in the workforce.”
Musell said that if the allegations in the complaint against IBM are true, they sound very similar to the things she hears from clients about how discrimination manifests itself in the workplace.
“That’s exactly the kind of allegations I see in my practice,” she said. “There is a stereotype that women with children, especially young children, may not be as dedicated to their job or will not be as available for their job, and the employer pre-emptively takes away opportunities, takes away paths of promotion, takes away more prestigious job assignments , so there are fewer opportunities for advancement in the workplace.
“In these types of workplaces, where there are these salary ranges and more Byzantine administrative systems, that makes it even more possible to target women who have children or who are on maternity leave with exactly the type of allegations the lawsuit alleges marginalized.”
According to Musell, California has made some progress in combating discrimination in the workplace through equal pay laws and labor code provisions that help promote transparency. However, she said those laws have a limit, noting that in Silicon Valley, stock-based compensation may not be obvious given the amounts employees receive.
Regarding the complaint’s claims that they were sidelined, she said there is no automatic disclosure of employment changes that could affect compensation or career path, although such information could come to light during the legal investigation.
From the allegation in the lawsuit, Musell said, IBM’s human resources department failed to respond.
“If a woman is sidelined like that the night before, as soon as she goes out and comes back, I guess those things could be resolved if you have a working HR process,” Musell said. But if the HR process is really there as a CYA for the employer and not really to find out the truth about what happened, then of course you’re going to have more of those lawsuits.” ®
https://www.theregister.com/2022/11/21/ibm_pregnancy_discrimination/ IBM exec sues for $5 million, claims he’ll be downgraded after childbirth • The Register