Axed data scientist sues IBM claiming he was discriminated against as a man

Says he wasn't given leave options available to women colleagues


Michael Stickler, a former IBM data scientist, has sued Big Blue for gender discrimination and retaliation after he complained that he was not being offered the same family leave options available to his women colleagues.

In March 2021, according to the complaint [PDF], Stickler's fiancée's seven-year-old son came to live with the couple and Stickler asked to take a week off using earned vacation time to get to know his soon-to-be stepson. But his supervisor refused to allow him to take vacation then.

The following month, his fiancée "became severely ill and required significant medical attention," to the point that she could no longer care for her child. Stickler was working from home in New York at the time and found it difficult to care for his ailing fiancée and her son, home from school due to COVID-19 restrictions, while managing his work responsibilities.

When he raised the issue to his team lead, he was told he could request time off under IBM’s Personal Time Off program, which provides 10 days of paid time off to deal with personal matters.

Stickler spoke to his supervisor about his need to take time off intermittently and she allowed him to take five days as Personal Time Off. He used those over the course of eight weeks, the complaint alleges, and in June 2021, his fiancée was hospitalized.

So Stickler again needed leave to take his fiancée to the doctor and to care for the child. And when he asked for additional time off, he was granted five more days under IBM's Personal Time Off plan.

Stickler contends his manager could have, but didn't, offer him time off under IBM’s Emergency Paid Care Leave program, which provides up to 20 days of paid leave to care for a child who is home for any COVID-related reason, or under New York's Paid Family Leave program.

His manager, the complaint says, "did not offer [Stickler] paid time off under any of these programs, which are regularly offered to [IBM's] female employees. Instead, she told plaintiff that he could take an unpaid leave of absence for six months to a year, with no guarantee that he would have a job at the end of the leave."

His manager, it's also claimed, misinformed him that he could take leave under the take Family Medical Leave Act but it would have to be 12 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave.

Sticker responded by complaining to his supervisor that he was not being offered the same leave options to care for his family as his women colleagues.

"In particular, [Stickler] pointed out that one of his female colleagues was given at least 20 days of paid intermittent leave to care for her child because her babysitter had quit," the complaint says. "That same colleague was also permitted to work on a flexible schedule to accommodate her family’s needs."

The dreaded PIP

A week after raising that issue, Stickler's supervisor put him on a performance improvement plan, or PIP, that gave him eight weeks to submit a report on the performance of an algorithm in an IBM product. He did so, and was told he would still have to meet with his supervisor on a weekly basis. Thereafter he was assigned to a new project.

The court filing contends Stickler's performance on the new project was satisfactory but he was nonetheless fired on December 15, 2021. Stickler claims he was fired "in direct retaliation for his requests for leave and in retaliation for complaining about the unequal access he, as a male employee, had to IBM’s leave policies."

The complaint, filed last week, seeks relief under the New York State Human Rights Law's for IBM's alleged gender discrimination and retaliation. "The allegations are without merit and IBM will vigorously defend itself," a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Stickler's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wendy Musell, managing partner of law offices of Wendy Musell and of counsel for Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, told The Register in a phone interview that the issue of unequal application of workplace benefits is an issue that has come up recently.

Earlier this month, she said, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance covering discrimination against caregivers.

"One of the areas that EEOC identified," she said, "is situations such as this where you have an alleged differential based on [protected characteristics like] sex or gender or race or national origin. Even if the prevailing law would not cover additional leave, if your policies apply differently for men or women, or by race, those can still become the basis for a successful claim."

Musell said the EEOC guidance is timely and worth considering.

"In an understandable way, it shows how there's an interrelationship between leave policies and discrimination laws," said Musell. "Employers do need to look at these things." ®


Other stories you might like

  • Drone ship carrying yet more drones launches in China
    Zhuhai Cloud will carry 50 flying and diving machines it can control with minimal human assistance

    Chinese academics have christened an ocean research vessel that has a twist: it will sail the seas with a complement of aerial and ocean-going drones and no human crew.

    The Zhu Hai Yun, or Zhuhai Cloud, launched in Guangzhou after a year of construction. The 290-foot-long mothership can hit a top speed of 18 knots (about 20 miles per hour) and will carry 50 flying, surface, and submersible drones that launch and self-recover autonomously. 

    According to this blurb from the shipbuilder behind its construction, the Cloud will also be equipped with a variety of additional observational instruments "which can be deployed in batches in the target sea area, and carry out task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional view of specific targets." Most of the ship is an open deck where flying drones can land and be stored. The ship is also equipped with launch and recovery equipment for its aquatic craft. 

    Continue reading
  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading
  • Big Tech loves talking up privacy – while trying to kill privacy legislation
    Study claims Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft work to derail data rules

    Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft often support privacy in public statements, but behind the scenes they've been working through some common organizations to weaken or kill privacy legislation in US states.

    That's according to a report this week from news non-profit The Markup, which said the corporations hire lobbyists from the same few groups and law firms to defang or drown state privacy bills.

    The report examined 31 states when state legislatures were considering privacy legislation and identified 445 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on behalf of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, along with industry groups like TechNet and the State Privacy and Security Coalition.

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022