IBM Settles Non-Compete Suit Against Former Diversity Chief

IBM Settles Non-Compete Suit Against Former Diversity Chief

IBM made headlines last month when it filed a lawsuit against its former Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of HR, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, claiming that her decision to accept a new position as Chief Diversity Officer of Microsoft violated a year-long non-compete agreement she had signed with IBM. McIntyre, the suit claimed, was privy to data and methods pertaining to IBM’s diversity and inclusion program that constituted trade secrets and would inevitably influence the work she did for their competitor.

In a court filing Monday, IBM revealed that it had settled the suit on February 25 and that McIntyre would delay the start of her new position at Microsoft until July, GeekWire reports:

Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed, but Microsoft said in a statement this afternoon that McIntyre will be officially starting in her new position this summer. … A judge in the case had issued a temporary restraining order preventing McIntyre from working at Microsoft pending a preliminary injunction hearing that was slated to take place next week.

“We’re pleased the court granted IBM’s motion for a temporary restraining order, protecting IBM’s confidential information and diversity strategies,” an IBM spokesperson said. “We’re glad the action has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and that Ms. McIntyre will not begin her new responsibilities until July.”

The lawsuit proved controversial, with critics saying IBM should not have put its concerns about competitive advantage ahead of the goal of improving diversity in the tech sector as a whole. It also underscored, however, the seriousness with which companies are taking diversity and inclusion as a driver of business value, as well as the growing role of data, analytics, and other technological innovations in D&I and HR as a whole. If IBM considers the data and technology it uses to make D&I decisions trade secrets worth suing over (in a case bound to generate some negative press, no less), it clearly sees these things as moneymakers.

Restricting the mobility of diversity chiefs from one company to another, however, could have a somewhat chilling effect on the development of the field. Our research at CEB, now Gartner, has found that nearly two-thirds of chief diversity officers are new to their organization, so locking in this small field of candidates with non-competes could make it harder for organizations to source D&I leaders.