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

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 …

  1. David 132 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    What a lovely company to work for

    With every one of these stories I see, I'm more puzzled that anyone - at least, anyone over the age of 35 or unwilling to work for H-1B wages - would still want to work for IBM. What a dreadful image they project.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: What a lovely company to work for

      Judging by the number of stories compared to the number of IBM employees, either people are far too scared to speak out, or the actual incidence of outrageous behaviour by IBM management is average for that sort of company.

      Any company that size will be bound to have some extremely bad managers and The Register's articles have many comments on appalling management in a multitude of other companies. Remember that in EDS it was a sacking offence to tell a colleague your rate of pay, and if you left in your first two years you had to pay back the cost of your 'training'.

      Generally you have to be in a pretty bad way to sue your employer, as it is pretty much professional suicide, so I'm guessing that IBM are just as bad as the rest. (Although I reckon it is abuse to have to call a hard disk a "DASD" in any case.) In one of my companies I used to joke that they were very benevolent, as who else would employ as senior managers patients who were on day-release from Broadmoor? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadmoor_Hospital for the uninitiated.)

      1. goldcd

        I'd agree that there's plenty of competition out there for bad employers

        Maybe IBM stands out as they had the history of being the "job for life, benevolent employer, in IT"

        The name carries a lot of baggage with it - they were never really a dot.com darling, nor a bonus-shitting FANG today. But neither were they considered an off-shore-centred, body-shop.

        They held the position of being the sensible, small-c conservative, back-bone of IT - makers of both mainframes and the thinkpad you wanted in your bag.

        A partner that would outlive you the customer - a safe pair of hands.

        My feeling is that all these stories about "IBM being dicks" are really just shorthand for "the old industry being dicks"

        1. jfollows

          Re: I'd agree that there's plenty of competition out there for bad employers

          Yes, IBM was a good employer; when it took me on (in 1984) it actively compared itself with the market surveys and wanted to be at the top.

          Its line management, however, wasn't generally much good but survived in good times. Line management got promoted to middle management. It was interesting that Lou Gerstner bypassed management to sort out IBM in the 1990s.

          By 2007 IBM was no longer a good employer, so I left. But I don't think it's any worse than many others, it's just that it's nowhere near the best and doesn't even try to be any more. At the end of the day it's a benefit/cost analysis and I no longer felt that the benefits I got from IBM (salary, yes, but recognition and good treatment more generally) matched the personal cost in time and effort and a feeling of compromising and no longer being able to do the best job I could any more.

          When I worked there I was proud to do a good job and meet the customers' requirements, and fix my mistakes properly. So me and my colleagues were respected and relied upon by our customers.

          1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            Re: I'd agree that there's plenty of competition out there for bad employers

            "Yes, IBM was a good employer; when it took me on (in 1984) it actively compared itself with the market surveys and wanted to be at the top."

            When I left, IBM were just in the process of introducing market-based rates (I forget the acronym); where the market AVERAGE became this Holy grail in salary discussions. As in: if you were earning 80% of the market average for your position then you had a chance at a pay rise, but as you got closer to 100% the chance of any salary rise trended toward zero. The vast majority of people in my team were around 85-90% of the market-based rate.

            The fiendishly clever bit is that IBM presented 100% of market rate as this incredible, aspirational goal that if you did reach it, meant that you could be very proud of yourself. Whereas in reality all it meant was that their very, very best people were - at absolute best - earning the average market rate.

            1. JimC

              Re: I'd agree that there's plenty of competition out there for bad employers

              Its a funny thing isn't. When it comes to us ordinary folk who do the work the customer pays for then its market rate. But when it comes to executives they have to pay top quartile pay in order to get the 'best' executives. By definition, of course, there aren't enough top quartile executives for everyone to have them, so the inevitable result is that they pay top quartile pay to average executives and the pay keeps ratcheting up. And thus the executive class gets richer and richer at the expense of the middle class.

      2. jgard

        Re: What a lovely company to work for

        I beg to differ. I work with quite a few people who are ex-IBM and not one of them says nice things about the experience. Their experiences and views are pretty consistent, chief among them:

        1) top down and autocratic corporate structure

        1) a stuffy, old fashioned, impersonal culture

        2) strict delineations between workers and management, very them and us

        4) rigid and impersonal ways of dealing with staff, their needs, problems etc

        5) the firm and management have the opinion that IBM is still at the very top of the corporate tree in technology and people should be glad to work there

        It sounds horrid to be honest. Why would anyone work there when there are forward thinking, flexible tech employers all over the place? The biggest issue to me is that the company knows it has real problems in terms of image, re age-discrimination, redundancies, unfair employment issues etc. But it does nothing to try and improve that image, it just doesn't care. It's stuck in the past.

        So yeah, from what I know from people who have worked there, IBM are definitely toward the bottom of the range in terms of employee treatment and corporate culture.

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: What a lovely company to work for

      IBM is about average for the US. Companies moved to "PTO" from vacation and sick days some time ago, the transition happened where I worked without anyone really noticing. It sounds the same except that it isn't -- if you're sick you've only got three days before it comes out of your PTO. Once you run out of PTO you're on borrowed time. Literally.

      I moved to the US back when jobs in the US were not only plentiful but paid a lot better than in the UK which made the crappy "heads we win, tails you lose" working conditions tolerable. The job market has deteriorated along with the visa climate -- its now literally a lottery -- so I'd recommend people think twice before accepting a job here, especially as our sort of work can often be done anywhere. (Meanwhile, I notice that the UK's working conditions have become more American -- the average working week's and the workday has, like the US, lost its breaks for lunch and the like, they're now all on your time.)

    3. jgard

      Re: What a lovely company to work for

      Totally agree. I was approached by a recruiter of theirs about 9 months ago and told him I would never consider working for IBM these days. When he asked why I told him that:

      I know many people who have worked at IBM, and keep up to date with the glut of employment / discrimination / dismissal stories that appear in the IT press. My pals have told me some horror stories about the things management got up to. Based on those sources of information I wouldn't work there ever. I'd never even consider it.

      His off the record response was that he understands and he frequently gets such feedback. He was pissed off and frustrated as it he was finding it increasingly difficult to recruit anyone at all.

  2. Garry Perez

    He should have identified as a woman

    1. GuldenNL

      Then IBM would have had to hire as biologist to confirm off he was a woman, it certainly couldn't go to the Supreme Court.

  3. JassMan Silver badge
    Coat

    He must have been a stickler for punishment, taking on IBM

    "Michael Stickler, a former IBM data scientist, has sued Big Blue for gender discrimination"

    Sorry about that, I'll get my coat.

  4. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    FAIL

    If IBM is smart

    They will hang the supervisor out to dangle in the wind.

    But they are not. They probably already promoted her.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've seen firsthand stackable offences committed by people of both genders.

    What I've not seen is balanced response. Percent senior manager of gender Y is perceived as a target worthwhile overlooking sackable offences for, or at least finding creative ways to Palm off problem staff to another business unit. Enjoy your relocation to location X where you will be found out, and unceremoniously booted by less tolerant employment law and HR statistics.

    Gender X on the other hand are expendable. No such KPI on percent gender X exist..

    Things suck and bad KPIs contribute to poor behaviour.

  6. The Empress

    You can be employed by IBM if

    You're not white male straight over age 30. Those are the rules

  7. xyz123 Bronze badge

    IBM is facing a vast number of lawsuits also pertaining to threats of a physical and/or illegal nature related to H-1B workers.

    Specifically that they threatened if the worker made any sort of complaint about unequal treatment, IBM would ensure the worker was blacklisted not only from H-1B but from every country that IBM operates a visa-based worker program, and that they'd ensure no company would hire them ever again.

    Very illegal. very morally wrong, and apparently the sheer volume of lawsuits indicates this isn't just a disgruntled employee.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Source? Only thing I can find on Google is an article from 2012 talking about one specific scenario.

    2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Done quite a bit of searching and can find next to nothing about this. Calling BS unless you can cite a source.

  8. trevorde Silver badge

    I'm confused

    Was he old or an 'Early Professional Hire'. IBM don't usually fire people on the basis of gender.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing new about this with IBM

    Long ago and far away, I worked for IBM in Vermont back in the early 90s when IBM had decided to offer benefits for "unmarried partners." This was clearly meant to apply to gay folks, but nothing said it had to be. So when my fiancé moved in I decided to cover her and her kids with that plan while we planned the wedding. HR actually sent someone down to explain to me that "it wasn't right" for me get those benefits. I asked why since it was stated to cover unmarried cohabitants. She danced around the issue a while and finally stated that it was "really meant for same-sex relationships." I simply asked, "Are you saying that you're using sex discrimination in offering benefits?" The reaction was like I'd put live 120V wires under the seat. I got the benefits with the admonition I was to tell no one.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: Nothing new about this with IBM

      "I got the benefits with the admonition I was to tell no one."

      I sincerely hope you told every living soul within a 1000 mile radius.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. TomPhan

    PIP

    Once a Performance Improvement Plan is mentioned you're better off looking for a new job - it's notorious for being used as a way to fire someone for non fireable actions.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: PIP

      In my last employment, I had a rather disinterested manager*, who had a chat with me at the end of the personnel year, and then passed me on to my next 'manager'. In the final meeting (by telephone, of course) it had been suggested that I try to get some follow-on business from clients by identifying 'key stakeholders-holders' and their budgets etc. (something I am totally crap at BTW).

      Anyway, I get the interview with the new line manager, and he doesn't say much just, the usual 'welcome to the team'. A month or so later the staff ratings are out, and I go on the system to discover that I am 'DN = Development Needed'. So I'm a bit unhappy with my managers, past and present. Actually furious. Why had I not been told? Why did neither of my last two managers see fit to explain it, agree my 'PIP' or hear my side fo things, like it says in the staff handbook?

      So I'm a bit 'terse' with my new manager (addressing him as Mr. <surname>, rather than by his first name in emails, as was usual). So he's pissed off with me, calls me on my desk phone (I worked in an open plan office) and we have this row with my 'workplace proximity associates' listening in to my side of the conversation, about why hadn't he told me about my 'DN' rating. He claimed that my previous line manager had told him that he had done all that and agreed my PIP (actions as stated above).

      I was seriously pissed off, but we agreed that there was probably no point making a complaint. We quietly ignored the PIP, although I learnt that when your line manager is an amateur rugby player, he just sort of tends to charge through any obstacle (including underlings) without thought for anything like 'side effects' of happiness, other people's point of view, right or wrong etc.***

      *Turned out he was VERY interested in his own career progression**.

      **Sorry for "carer progression", read "promotion".

      ***Apologies to all those caring, comforting and helpful and friendly rugby players out there, this is just my personal experience.

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