Ex-McKinsey IT director claims he was fired for whistleblowing

Lawsuit alleges he was 'set up' after finding flaws in product meant for sale to Uncle Sam

A former IT director at McKinsey & Co filed a complaint yesterday claiming it wrongfully terminated him after he blew the whistle on alleged disaster recovery issues within the consultancy.

Kamran Niazi alleges in the lawsuit, filed in Massachusetts on May 22 and seen by The Register, that he was put on a performance improvement plan (PiP) after he worked on a presentation reflecting poorly on the issues the company would have with data restoration, claiming in the complaint the organization might have had trouble withstanding "a malware attack or natural disruption event."

In his version of events, detailed in the complaint, Niazi joined the firm in February 2021 with his "primary focus" being to drive the IT Disruption Resilience (DR) program, which had previously been managed by three different employees. He went on to do work with the team that was trying to obtain FedRAMP certification for its Wave product – a program management solution which Niazi claimed the company had been selling to corporate clients for almost a decade "to begin generating revenue with governmental agencies."

As readers selling software platforms into US government agencies will know, a company needs the FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program) cert to comply with Uncle Sam's cloud services risk policies.

The IT director claims the group then implemented a "tactical initiative named 'Cyber Step-up' to resolve gaps and issues to help improve the firm's preparedness in an effort to protect and respond to a ransomware attack."

The lawsuit goes on to claim that "given the lack of data and information available about the state of recovery capabilities of the Client Capability products," Niazi prepared a survey to run in June 2022 to assess the state of DR for approximately 50 of McKinsey's "most critical IT client-facing products." The complaint alleges that approximately 60 percent responded, with the results "solidifying" a preliminary assessment that the "DR capabilities were virtually non-existent in the Client Capabilities technology landscape."

The lawsuit details what the IT director claims was a campaign to change the results presented, along with allegations that colleagues had asked him to sign off on an "inaccurate" slide deck, which he claims he refused to do. He alleges he was then told he would not be allowed to participate in the meeting, "even though he was director of DR."

The complaint claims that on August 5, "the same day that Mr Niazi's co-workers were presenting the knowingly inaccurate deck, Mr Niazi was told that his performance was unsatisfactory and that he would be placed on a PiP."

Niazi's lawsuit states he responded with a long rebuttal of several thousand words, much of which the complaint claims was "dedicated to disproving the bogus allegations of poor performance, and the other half dedicated to exposing the errors in the alternate deck that had been prepared for the meeting."

The suit also details a test conducted in December, with the complaint alleging Niazi "helped the product team create a simulation and parameters of a recovery test to meet the FedRAMP testing requirements."

The complaint states:

The test itself was conducted in December and the product team failed to restore and recover the components of the product which were part of the test. This further validated the survey results and Mr Niazi's concerns that the Company's Client facing products were indeed not capable of recovery.

During a year-end review in November, Niazi was told he was being placed on a performance improvement plan on the same basis as what he had been told in August, which he refused to sign, the suit claims.

The complaint goes on to allege that on December 12, 2022, a senior HR manager offered Niazi "an ultimatum: accept the PiP or get terminated with a one month severance package offer." According to the document, Niazi retorted that he had been "set up" and alleged the company was "trying to cover up fraud." He claimed he then provided "ample documentation to substantiate his position." The complaint claims that "three days later, on December 15" the HR staffer pivoted "by claiming that the Company was looking to separate with Mr Niazi not for performance related issues, but due to communication gaps/issues, which, obviously, cannot be quantified."

The IT director claims he then pointed out that his year end evaluation did not contain any references to problematic communication/interpersonal skills, which the suit alleges caused HR "to go silent."

The techie claims he was fired the next month, in January 2023. The suit is seeking damages from McKinsey as well as attorneys' fees and expenses. We've contacted Niazi's lawyer for comment and to confirm a monetary figure for the damages the IT boss is seeking.

We have also asked McKinsey for comment and will update this piece if we hear back. But we note that one of its spokespeople told legal news site Law360 on Monday that Niazi had been "terminated for performance reasons," branding the complaint's allegations "meritless." ®

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