RALEIGH — Red Hat is defending itself against two separate sex discrimination lawsuits filed by former female employees.
In both cases, filed within months of each other, the women allege their careers were cut short because of sex-based discrimination. Both have also filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The open-source giant, however, denies any wrongdoing. The firm placed both women on what’s called “Performance Improvement Plans” (PIP) prior to their terminations.
Red Hat, which now is part of IBM following a $34 billion merger, recently filed a 20-page answer to the first set of allegations filed by former Red Hatter Danielle Malecek in June in Durham County.
“[Red Hat] denies taking any action towards [Malecek] with any discriminatory or retaliatory intent,” reads the filing filed on Oct. 25 by Red Hat’s attorney Randall Avram with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton firm in Raleigh.
“Regardless of any such alleged wrongful intent, [Red Hat] would have taken the same actions for legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons.”
Red Hat is asking the court to dismiss the case. A initial pretrial conference hearing is now set for Dec. 12.
The company issued a similar statement in September, denying another set of allegations by former sales salesperson Heather Hoover, filed a month earlier in Wake County.
On both cases, the company will not provide further comment.
“As a general rule, we do not comment on pending litigation,” Stephanie Wonderlick, Red Hat’s vice president of Communications, wrote in an email.
Michael Kornbluth of Kornbluth Ginsberg Law Group is representing the plaintiff in both cases, and did not return emails or calls for comment.
Kornbluth’s LinkedIn profile describes him as a “Plaintiff’s Employment and Sexual Harassment Attorney.” The firm’s website says he is the current the Chair of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association. He also served on a panel titled “#MeToo: A Conversation about gender bias, discrimination, and sexual harassment in the legal profession” (Sept. 2018), and was a lecturer for “A Cultural Shift – #MeToo and Times Up” (May 2018).
The Malecek case
In the first case, Malecek, a territory sales manager for Red Hat’s Ansible program who worked at the firm from 2015 to 2018, alleges “unfair treatment due to her gender by her supervisors and co-workers.”
“The treatment sometimes materialized in the form of negative feedback not based in the realities of Ms. Malecek’s job performance, but instead based upon sexist stereotypes and prejudices,” the lawsuit claims.
She also alleges she was subjected to a “gender-based territory transfer” into a far less developed and lucrative territory.
In October 2016, the firm placed Malecek on her first of two performance improvement plans. “At the time she was placed on PIP, Malacek had made more progress towards reaching her quarterly sales quota than her two male colleagues. These employees were not placed on PIP,” the suit claims.
By January 2018, the situation deteriorated even further with Malecek filing a charge of discrimination with the EOCC. Six weeks after the filing, she was placed on her second PIP.
By March, she was notified that her employment with Red Hat was terminated due to her “inability to meet the measures of the PIP.”
The Hoover case
In the second case filed in Wake County, Hoover alleges she was “continually subjected to negative treatment because of her gender.”
Hoover, who worked at Red Hat from 2015 to 2018, also alleges sexual harassment by an immediate supervisor, which escalated when she became pregnant in 2016.
In the filing, she detailed one incident at a party off-site sanctioned and paid for by the company in which the supervisor “became very intoxicated” and repeatedly kissed Hoover on her forehead, making her “very uncomfortable.”
She alleges her complaints “had not been taken seriously.”
Then in December 2017, she was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan without warning, “circumventing steps in Red Hat’s progressive discipline program,” the suit claims.
She was terminated in March.
“As a result of the discrimination to which Ms. Hoover was subjected, and as a result of her retaliatory termination, Ms. Hoover has suffered and continues to suffer severe emotional distress and significant economic damages,” the suit alleges.
The era of #MeToo
The company has some 12,000 employees around the world.
The two suits come at a time when sexual-harassment complaints are on the rise.
Since the MeToo# movement started in October 2017, sexual-harassment complaints are increasing, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 7,609 sexual-harassment complaints during the last fiscal year – up 13.6 percent on the previous year. That’s despite reports of all types of workplace harassment declining, data released in April show.
Now, more than ever, companies are feeling the pressure to deal with sex-discrimination cases and facing questions over workplace culture.
That’s evidenced by InHerSight, a startup out of Durham. It’s a crowdsourcing ratings site that keeps a scorecard of more than 100,000 companies – all based on “proprietary insights” of women who have worked for those companies.
On the site, Red Hat’s reviews are mixed. Based on 523 reviews from 34 employees, the company received a score of 3.3 out of 5.
One unsatisfied reviewer wrote: “There are very few female leaders at Red Hat. It is a boy’s club throughout the company and there isn’t a level of awareness around diversity and inclusion. There are pockets where it is OK but not an accepting place for women in leadership.”
Of Red Hat’s 17 senior executives listed at its website, one is a woman (DeLisa Alexander Executive vice president and chief people officer.)
Another reviewer, however, had a different view: “Your experience will depend on what team and manager you have, but overall, mine has been extremely positive.”
Chuck Monteith of Monteith Law based in Raleigh, who has no connection to the lawsuits, says it’s important not to rush to judgment.
“In general, the outcome of every case turns on its own particular set of facts,” he said. “I don’t believe that two separate lawsuits are sufficient to show a pattern or practice within a company’s work culture. It’s possible that, at some point, similar allegations by other individuals might raise questions about a company’s work culture.”