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Holmes v. IBM

July 11, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McMahon, Judge



Plaintiff Cindy Holmes, an African-American woman, was hired to serve as a Production Technician by defendant IBM in July 2000. IBM utilized an employee evaluation system by which employees were assigned a "band" from1 to 10 according to their skills, contributions, and impact. Holmes, who had worked for IBM from 1980 to 1993 before being re-hired in 2000, was re-hired as a Band 3 employee.

From 2000 to 2006, Holmes was not promoted to Band 4, despite repeatedly seeking such a promotion. During this time, several Caucasian co-workers were promoted. Also during this period, Holmes transferred several times within IBM, working under five separate supervisors before voluntarily resigning from IBM in February 2006.

By a complaint filed on March 18, 2005, Holmes brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, contending that IBM discriminated against her by refusing to promote her while promoting less qualified Caucasian employees. Holmes claims that a number of comments made by supervisors support her claims, as do various other on-the-job incidents.

IBM now moves for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion is denied.


Defendant IBM, the world's largest information technology company, has a manufacturing facility located in East Fishkill, New York. Plaintiff Cindy Holmes, an African-American woman, was employed by IBM from September 1980 to February 1981 and from August 1981 to May 1993.*fn1 See Affirmation of Michael H. Sussman ("Sussman") at Exhibit 22. In 2000, Holmes was re-hired by IBM as a Production Technician at the East Fishkill facility. Affidavit of Cindy Holmes ("Holmes Affidavit"), Ex. 1, at 104.

During Holmes' third tenure with the company, IBM employed a classification system in order to assign employees' job titles and salaries. The system was comprised of ten "bands." According to IBM's "Position Classification and Position Reference Guide," the bands were based upon three "equally weighted factors": skills, contribution/leadership, and impact on business/job scope. See Position Classification and Position Reference Guide ("the PRG"), Holmes Affidavit, Ex. 12. None of the ten "bands" had any specific educational or job-related requirements. Id. According to the PRG, each band is associated with a salary range which may overlap other ranges.

See PRG at 0406.*fn2 The PRG does not indicate that there was a finite number of positions available within each band; nor does it provide an explanation of when promotions from one band to the next were made available. A promotion between bands was not necessarily accompanied by a pay raise. Id. When Holmes was rehired in 2000, it was as a Band 3 employee. Declaration of Allan Bloom ("Bloom 1"), Ex. A1.

Employment Under Powell-Manso

In July 2000, Holmes was assigned to work in the 200mm Control Center under the supervision of Dawn Powell-Manso, an African-American woman. Bloom 1, Ex. A3; Declaration of Dawn Powell-Manso ("Powell-Manso") ¶ 6. Powell-Manso had the authority to promote employees within the 200mm Control Center and recommend salary raises and/or monetary awards for her employees based on merit, and she had the authority to promote employees within the 200mm Control Center. Powell-Manso ¶¶ 9-10. While working under Powell-Manso, Holmes was rewarded with salary increases, merit-based awards, and laudatory performance evaluations. Bloom 1, Ex. A4. In addition, Powell-Manso gave Holmes, Michelle Williams and Herbert Modlin the title of "team leaders," a position which entailed supervisory responsibilities. Like Holmes and Powell-Manso, Williams and Modlin were African-American. Id. at Ex. A5, Ex. A6.

Powell-Manso, however, did not promote Holmes during the two years that the women worked together. In May 2002, she did promote Jodi Spiecker, a Caucasian woman, from Band 3 to Band 4. Powell-Manso ¶ 11. According to Powell-Manso, Spiecker was promoted largely because she worked in an "expeditor" role, meaning that she presented information to three levels of IBM management on a daily basis, and because she had three years' experience at Band 3. Id.

¶¶ 12, 14. It was Powell-Manso's belief that Holmes "did not have the same experience presenting to management," and "had not even been in the 200mm Control Center for two years" at the time of Spiecker's promotion. Id. at 13, 15. It appears that there was only one promotion available at this time. On the same day that Spiecker was promoted, Holmes was given a 10% pay raise. Holmes Affidavit, Ex. 1, at 134.

It is Holmes' contention that she was "objectiv[ly]" more qualified for the promotion than Spiecker because she had been the "equivalent" of a Band 3 for a longer period of time, had a superior education, had participated in several educational programs sponsored by IBM, and had received company awards. However, Holmes concedes that she does not know what factors were looked at when the decision to promote Spiecker was made. Further, she does not contend that Spiecker was unqualified for promotion. Bloom 1, Ex. A9.

Holmes spoke to Powell-Manso about why she had not received the promotion. During her meeting with Powell-Manso, Holmes alleges that she was told that "it would be too much of a hassle for [Powell-Manso] to explain" promoting her because both women were African-American. Id. at 46. Powell-Manso denies telling Holmes that she was not promoted because of her race; in fact, she denies making any race-related comments to her at all. Powell-Manso ¶¶ 17, 18.

Powell-Manso awarded Holmes with an "extraordinary rating" in her August 2002 performance evaluation. Holmes, upset that she had not been promoted, asked for, and received, a lateral transfer within IBM's East Fishkill facility to the 300mm Control Center, retaining her standing as a Band 3 Employee. Sussman, Ex. 5, at 7; Holmes Affidavit, Ex. 1, at 139.

Employment Under DiPietro

Holmes' new supervisor in the 300mm Control Center was James DiPietro, a white male. Like Powell-Manso, DiPietro had the authority to promote employees and to recommend that they receive pay raises. Declaration of James DiPietro ("DiPietro") ¶¶ 8-9.

In January 2003, Holmes met with DiPietro to discuss her chances of being promoted during the course of that year. Holmes Affidavit ¶ 7; see also DiPietro ¶ 10. According to DiPietro, he told Holmes that he could not promise her a promotion in 2003 because she had only been in the 300mm Control Center for four months, and because there "were several other Band 3 employees who were competitive for a promotion." DiPietro ¶¶ 11, 12. Holmes alleges that she was told that only one person would be promoted to Band 4 that year, and she "understood" that the promotion would go to Erin Mitchell, a Caucasian female. ...

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