IBM manager victimised by four female bosses wins £20,000-plus payout

IBM manager victimised by her four female bosses after telling them that work calls on Saturdays was illegal sex discrimination wins £20,000-plus payout

  • Dawn Davidsen, 54, from Surrey, was victimised by her four bosses at IBM
  • Told superiors they could face legal action for calls on weekends and days off
  • Said women could claim it was sex discrimination as more likely to have children

An IBM manager who was victimised by her four female bosses after she warned them that making female staff take work calls on Saturdays amounted to sex discrimination has won £20,000 in damages.

Dawn Davidsen, 54, from Surrey, repeatedly told her superiors that the computer giant could face legal action from workers due to bullying, harassment and the scheduling of calls on weekends and days off.

She said women could claim this was sex discrimination as they were more likely to have children to care for.

But rather than investigate her claims, a tribunal heard the 54-year-old whistleblower was branded a ‘mother hen’ who had ‘gone native’ by female managers who then targeted her for raising concerns.  

IBM manager Dawn Davidsen, 54, from Surrey, told her superiors that they could face legal action for scheduling work calls on weekends and days off. She said women could claim this was sex discrimination as they were more likely to have children to care for

Senior IBM executives Joanne Czekalowska, Samantha McFarland, Sandra Oliveira and Claire Bryant have now been found guilty of victimising Mrs Davidsen while the company has been ordered to pay her compensation.

A three year legal battle came to a conclusion last week following the publication of the final judgement in the case by Employment Judge Laurence Anstis. 

The hearing in Reading, Berkshire, heard that Mrs Davidsen had worked for IBM since 1996 in a variety of roles before being given the job of Acquisitions Integration Manager in 2016.

Her new post involved being responsible for supporting staff at The Weather Company (TWC), a meteorological firm purchased by IBM in a £1.5 billion deal the same year.

In June 2017, she told Acquisitions executive Ms McFarland she was worried about the ‘toxic environment’ at the newly acquired company which included staff being shouted at.

One female employee, she said, was being harassed to work on her days off, including having regular 8am calls on Saturdays scheduled.

Mrs Davidsen told the hearing: ‘I explained that this behaviour was against the law, with (the female employee’s) treatment and the Saturday calls being sex discrimination, and the bullying and harassment also against the law, any of which could result in grievances or legal action against IBM.

‘Sam queried how the Saturday calls could be sex discrimination as the whole team was affected.

‘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.’

Senior IBM executives Joanne Czekalowska (pictured), Samantha McFarland, Sandra Oliveira and Claire Bryant  were found guilty of victimising Mrs Davidsen

Ms McFarland said she was ‘taken aback’ by Ms Davidsen’s ’emotional outburst’ which she said ‘physically hit me like a force’ and shocked that she appeared to be blaming IBM for the situation. 

Over the following month Ms Davidsen again raised concerns, describing a ‘climate of fear’ to another manager, Ms Bryant, and voiced her worries to HR advisor, Philip Johnson.

The tribunal heard that in July, after hearing about her claims, Ms Czekalowska, a director, approached HR for advice dealing with an ‘underperforming’ employee, later acknowledged to be Ms Davidsen.

However, up to that point there was no record of anyone raising concerns about how she was doing her job, the tribunal heard.

Ms Czekalowska then intervened to stop Ms Davidsen taking on another project that she had been due to assume responsibility for, the tribunal heard.

And the same month Mrs Davidsen was left shocked when team manager Sandra Oliveira told her that her level of performance in the job was disappointing and suggested there was no longer a role for her on the team.

But the tribunal heard she persisted with raising her concerns.

On July 31 she again told HR of her belief that Saturday working for female staff was sex discrimination after which Ms McFarland messaged Ms Bryant and Ms Oliviera to warn of a ‘problem in the making’.

In a message to HR, Ms McFarland wrote: ‘I am quite worried she is creating more problems than help…I strongly believe she is in the wrong job. We didn’t advertise for a mother hen who needed to go native.’

Of this, the tribunal said: ‘The references to ”creating more problems than help” and ”mother hen who needed to go native” can only be taken as references (in critical terms) to what (Ms Davidsen) was doing in respect of the concerns that had been brought to her by the TWC employees.’

In September, Ms Davidsen was told she was being put on a formal performance improvement plan, a move that Ms Bryant and Ms Oliveira considered so humiliating they wondered if she would resign.

In January 2018, ahead of giving Ms Davidsen a poor score in her annual review Claire Bryant described her as ‘an awkward git’ and ‘very irritating’.

The following month Mrs Davidsen went on long term sick leave with work related stress, the tribunal heard, and launched legal proceedings, claiming she had been victimised for blowing the whistle.

The tribunal found that despite what IBM claimed, there were no concerns raised about Ms Davidsen’s performance until she first voiced her concerns about working practices as TWC and that an ‘adverse view’ had been taken of her following her complaints.

‘We find that it was (Ms Davidsen’s) disclosures (or something about them) that led the respondents (or some of them) to take action against her with the intention of removing her from (or getting her to voluntarily give up) her role in the acquisitions team,’ the panel found.

In total IBM, Ms Czekalowska, Ms McFarland, Ms Oliveira and Ms Bryant were found to have victimised Ms Davidsen in ten instances.

The company was ordered to pay her £20,000 in damages and a further unspecified sum to cover the difference between her full salary and the sick pay she received for almost three years.

Following the original decision last June, Ms Davidsen – who has returned to work at IBM as a business consultant – applied for the tribunal to consider an additional issue regarding compensation.

However, in his judgement last week Judge Anstis refused her request and also dismissed her claim for IBM to pay her legal costs.

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