IBM ordered to pay £22k to whistleblower and told by judges: Teach your managers what discrimination means

Bosses broke law to punish staffer who raised working practice fears

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IBM has been ordered to pay £22,000 in compensation and two years' salary to a Brit staffer who blew the whistle on unlawful working practices within the company – only for infuriated managers to lash out at her.

Reading Employment Tribunal awarded Dawn Davidsen compensation and ordered that she be reinstated in her job after she was targeted by four managers within IBM, having spoken up about conditions within IBM-owned firm The Weather Company. She said these potentially amounted to sex discrimination, with the practices including work calls scheduled for 8am on Saturdays.

Tribunal judges scorned Big Blue's managers for not having "any proper understanding of how discrimination could arise outside the most obvious situations of direct discrimination" and called upon senior management to "consider carefully this judgment and what steps, whether by way of training or otherwise, it takes in consequence of this".

Davidsen had blown the whistle to her bosses about how The Weather Company's outside-normal-office-hours culture could land IBM in legal hot water.

"I explained that as women predominantly had responsibility for childcare, calls out of normal working hours have a disproportionate effect on them, which would be indirect sex discrimination," she told the tribunal.

In an excoriating 133-page judgment published last week, Employment Judge Anstis, Mr A Kapur and Ms HT Edwards found that IBM manager Samantha "Sam" McFarland and HR man Philip Johnson found Davidsen's whistleblowing "unwelcome", with both being "critical of the claimant for having made the disclosures" at all.

'Impossible' targets and false feedback

Rather than investigate properly, IBM decided to close ranks and try to force Davidsen out of her job by giving her falsely negative annual reviews and "impossible" targets to meet, the tribunal found.

"Those to whom the claimant made her complaints were either very slow to take any steps to investigate the claimant's disclosures (or pass them on to others for investigation) or did not do so at all," said the judges. "If the problem was only with the manner of disclosure that does not explain the reluctance to investigate what the claimant was disclosing."

A group of Davidsen's immediate line managers, including McFarland and UK acquisitions integration manager Claire Bryant, began referring to Davidsen as "militant" and a "shop steward", plotting to force her out of the company altogether through an impossible Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

She was tasked with gathering data on 48 countries and to devise a roadmap of potential buyouts within just over a week, including "readiness and localisation status per offering per market". Among those potential targets were "medical devices and medical data offerings that would be likely to be highly regulated", said the tribunal.

IBM witnesses Sandra Oliveira, to whom Davidsen reported, and Bryant tried to tell the tribunal that the PIP was "unremarkable… not something for an employee to be alarmed about" only for internal Sametime chat app transcripts shown in evidence to give the lie to their claims.

Employment Judge Anstis commented: "Thus Claire Bryant and Sandra Oliveira – who were preparing the PIP – saw it as such a humiliation or burden that they themselves would resign rather than be subject to a PIP, and they contemplated that the claimant may do the same thing… they are all about the PIP leading to the end of the claimant's employment, whether through her resignation or dismissal."

Revenge is a dish that splatters you in the face

Joanne Czekalowska, IBM's director of acquisition integration for EMEA, was also found to have colluded with fellow managers to block Davidsen from taking on a significant role integrating a new IBM acquisition, Bluewolf, into the company – something the EMEA boss did as revenge for Davidsen's whistleblowing, the judges found.

"We find it more likely that in pursuit of the removal of the claimant from her role [Czekalowska] did not want the claimant to take up more funded work such as the Bluewolf project. If the claimant did not have funded work, it would be easier to remove her through any eventual redundancy process within the team or to persuade her to find other roles and projects elsewhere," the tribunal ruled.

The tribunal also cast aside the evidence of multiple IBM witnesses who contradicted each other or gave differing accounts of conference calls and meetings that all were present for.

It also ordered that its judgment be attached to Davidsen's HR record as a complete answer to her mysteriously negative annual review.

IBM's HR practices have been exposed to courts worldwide over the past few years, as chronicled on The Register. Big Blue also settled 281 UK employment tribunal cases brought over age discrimination and constructive dismissal late last year. A former senior executive told an American court that she was ordered to lie to local government officials about an ongoing age discrimination row in the US, where IBM stands accused of sacking expensive older staff to replace them with younger and cheaper "early career" professionals. ®

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