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technology

IBM in Talks to Allow Ex-Diversity Chief to Work for Microsoft

  • Lawyers discuss possible settlement in mediation with judge
  • Deal may include temporary role limits, clawbacks for IBM

International Business Machines Corp. is moving toward settling non-competition claims against its former chief diversity officer and allowing her to take on a temporarily limited role at rival Microsoft Corp.

Lawyers for the company and the former IBM executive, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, met in a federal court in White Plains, New York, to hash out a possible deal through mediation talks with U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison. The lawyers declined to comment on the progress of the talks, which took place over five hours on Thursday in the judge’s chambers.

“We have moved the ball a little bit and we’re hopeful you can help us move it further,” Robert Atkins, an attorney for IBM, told the judge before the talks began. He said that a draft of an agreement had been sent to McIntyre.

Issues with the agreement include the “the length of time she might have to sit out from full responsibilities” and whether she can be in "listen and learn mode" for a time in her Microsoft job, McIntyre’s attorney, Michael Delikat said. There is also disagreement over equity and other money IBM wants to claw back as part of the deal, he said.

The lawsuit cast light on both companies’ use of non-competition agreements to keep employees from leaving for rivals, and the increasing importance of hiring a diverse workforce. Technology and financial companies usually seek to enforce non-compete agreements against workers with access to proprietary technical information or high-level strategies, not those involved in personnel initiatives.

IBM-Microsoft Spat Elevates Diversity to Tech-Secret Level 

IBM sued McIntyre earlier this month over her plan to leave for Microsoft, claiming that she had access to "closely guarded and competitively sensitive strategic plans and recruitment initiatives." The company won a temporary order preventing her from taking her Microsoft post, in light of an agreement that she not work for a competitor for one year.

IBM is wrongly seeking to enforce an “overbroad” non-competition clause against an employee who has taken no confidential information, McIntyre’s lawyers said in court filings.

The company said in its complaint that it has gone to great effort to ensure its diversity measures are kept secret. McIntyre oversaw teams responsible for developing artificial intelligence-based tools and methods used to track career development, recommend growth and promotion opportunities and measure diversity metrics, IBM said.

Microsoft announced earlier this month that it hired McIntyre, who spent more than two decades at IBM, where she held executive positions including vice president in human resources before being named chief diversity officer and vice president of leadership succession planning in 2015.

The case is International Business Machines Corp. v. McIntyre, 18-cv-01210, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (White Plains).

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