Michael Stickler, a former IBM data scientist, sued Big Blue for gender discrimination and retaliation after complaining that he was not offered the same family leave options as his female colleagues.

In March 2021, according to the complaint [PDF], the seven-year-old son of Stickler’s fiancee came to live with the couple, and Stickler asked to take a week off using the vacation earned to get to know his future stepson. But her supervisor then refused to allow her to take a vacation.

The following month, his fiancée “became seriously ill and required extensive medical attention”, to the point that she could no longer care for her child. Stickler was working from home in New York City at the time and struggling to care for his sick fiancée and son, who came home from school due to COVID-19 restrictions, while managing his work responsibilities.

When he raised the matter with his team leader, he was told he could apply for time off under IBM’s personal leave program, which provides 10 days of paid time off to care for ‘personal belongings.

Stickler told his supervisor about his need for intermittent time off and she allowed him to take five days of personal time off. He used them for eight weeks, according to the complaint, and in June 2021 his fiancée was hospitalized.

So Stickler needed time off again to take his fiancée to the doctor and take care of the child. And when he requested additional leave, he was granted an additional five days through IBM’s personal leave program.

Stickler argues that his manager could have, but didn’t, offer him leave under IBM’s paid emergency care leave program, which provides up to 20 days of paid leave to take care of himself. caring for a child who is home for a 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 one of these programs, which are regularly offered to [IBM’s] employed. Instead, she told the complainant he could take unpaid leave for six months to a year, with no guarantee that he would have a job at the end of the leave.”

His manager, it is also claimed, misinformed him that he could take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, but that it should be 12 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave.

Sticker responded by complaining to her supervisor that she was not offered the same time off options to care for her family as her female colleagues.

“Specifically, [Stickler] pointed out that a colleague of hers had been granted at least 20 days of intermittent paid leave to care for her child because her babysitter quit,” the complaint states. “This same colleague was also allowed to work flexible hours to accommodate her family needs.”

The dreaded PIP

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

The court filing argues that Stickler’s performance on the new project was satisfactory, but he was nonetheless terminated on Dec. 15, 2021. He was a male employee, had to follow IBM’s furlough policies. »

The lawsuit, filed last week, seeks relief under New York State human rights law for IBM’s alleged sexual 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 the law firms of Wendy Musell and attorney for Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, said The register in a telephone interview that the issue of unequal application of benefits is an issue that has come up recently.

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

“One of the areas identified by the EEOC,” she said, “are situations like this where you have a so-called differential based on [protected characteristics like] sex or gender or race or national origin. Even if applicable law does not cover additional leave, if your policies apply differently for men or women, or by race, these can still become the basis of a successful claim.”

Musell said the EEOC guidelines are timely and worth heeding.

“In an understandable way, this shows how there is a relationship between leave policies and discrimination laws,” Musell said. “Employers need to look at these things.” ®