BlackBerry CEO sexually harassed senior employee, lawsuit claims

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 3:51 pmEDT

Last updated Wednesday, April 3, 2024 3:51 pmEDT

A former BlackBerry Ltd. employee has filed a lawsuit against the company and its new CEO, John Giamatteo, who she claims sexually harassed her and then retaliated against her after she reported the behavior.

The whistleblower, a California-based woman of color who worked for the Waterloo, Ont.-based technology company for more than a decade, including in several high-level positions, alleges that members of the company’s leadership were much of their complaints when Giamatteo was appointed. CEO in December.

The lawsuit was filed in a U.S. district court Wednesday hours before the technology company reported its fourth-quarter results.

The plaintiff, known as Jane Doe in court documents, alleges that her treatment at BlackBerry violated both the U.S. labor code and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and resulted in her wrongful termination.

No charges have been filed and the allegations have not been proven in court. No response has been filed to the complaint.

“BlackBerry and Mr. Giamatteo believe these allegations are baseless and intend to vigorously defend themselves against them,” BlackBerry said in a statement.

“BlackBerry is committed to maintaining a respectful and productive work environment free of discrimination and harassment. To this end, we do not condone, condone or ignore workplace discrimination or harassment or any unlawful behavior. “We conducted a thorough investigation, which found no evidence of wrongdoing or violations of the company’s code of conduct, and we are confident that the robustness of our process and its conclusions will be evident in court.”

A law firm named as Giamatteo’s representative in court documents did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his behalf.

In the complaint, Doe is described as a “high-performing” and “high-potential” employee who was rewarded with “promotion after promotion” during her time at the company.

In his court filing, he alleges that his career was “derailed” when Giamatteo became president of BlackBerry’s cybersecurity business in October 2021. Giamatteo had previously been president and chief revenue officer of antivirus giant McAfee Corp.

She alleges that he asked her to consider working for him so they could “travel together.”

In an interview, the complainant said that the suggestion of traveling together arose the first time she met Giamatteo, when she expected the conversation to be of an introductory nature.

“I hadn’t had that conversation with other people before and no one had mentioned that and that raised kind of a red flag for me,” the complainant said.

In the complaint, he alleges that he politely rejected Giamatteo’s suggestion and told him that he was not seeking to change his hierarchical structure.

Later, she alleges that he invited her to a dinner that she assumed was a business occasion because, she said, he had been meeting with other senior leaders at the company.

“I didn’t really feel comfortable going, but I thought, well, he was having dinner with other people, I can’t be the exception, because as happens with women, they call you difficult or uncooperative or something like that,” she said. she said in an interview.

In court documents, she claims she left the meal under the impression it was a date because he “tried to approach her” and “court” her throughout the night, telling her stories about how she dresses when she goes out with her daughters. so people mistake him for “a dirty old man” who has a date with them.

“I’ve been working for many years and I’ve had many different business dinners or lunches and I know what… the tone should be and the behaviors within it and the conversation within it should be and that dinner didn’t go well. like a professional business dinner,” he said in an interview.

Court records state that shortly afterward, she reported the incident to then-CEO John Chen, who she says supported her and agreed that she did not have to travel alone with Giamatteo.

Chen did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to a social media account under his name.

After her conversations with Chen, the plaintiff says Giamatteo stopped inviting her to meetings in which she should have been included and “actively spread the false rumor among employees that (the) plaintiff was not a good collaborator.”

She alleges that he began telling staff that he wanted to get her out, and toward the end of 2021 or early 2022, she claims that he threatened her, saying that if she “isn’t nice to him, he has a big network and it could affect her career.” ”.

In early 2023, the whistleblower says she reported his conduct to human resources, who attempted to create greater separation between her role and Giamatteo’s.

Later that year, as the company searched for Chen’s successor, court records state that she cooperated with an investigation launched by the law firm Morrison and Foerster and notified the company’s interim CEO, Richard Lynch, of her allegations.

On December 4, the complainant says she was told she would be dismissed with immediate effect as part of a “restructuring”.

When BlackBerry reported its third-quarter results in February, it said it had cut about 200 jobs as part of its cost-cutting efforts and anticipated more job losses in its cybersecurity business, which it plans to spin off from its Internet division. things.

Days after the whistleblower’s firing, BlackBerry named Giamateo its new CEO. A press release announcing the move praised his “deep industry experience and outstanding track record of inspiring teams and delivering operational excellence.”

The plaintiff says in an interview that her dismissal and appointment left her “shocked and paralyzed.”

The decision to file a lawsuit, she said, was difficult, but she went ahead with legal action because she felt that if she was “silenced” she would not help other women.

“I feel like I have a responsibility, particularly having been at the executive level, to help other women, whether it’s other women at BlackBerry or in the industry or more broadly,” she said.

“I hope that if you can hear my story, it will help make you stronger.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2024.

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