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IBM Manager Who Backed Black Salesman Awarded $11 Million (2)

April 16, 2021, 12:51 PM; Updated: April 16, 2021, 1:57 PM

IBM must pay $11 million for firing a manager in its embedded solutions agreement group because he complained about race discrimination against a Black sales representative who believed he was cheated out of sales commissions, a federal jury in Washington state ruled.

The retaliation Scott Kingston was subjected to by International Business Machines Corp. violated Washington’s Law Against Discrimination and the state’s public policies prohibiting racial bias and the wrongful withholding of wages, the jury told the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington Thursday.

Kingston also proved he wasn’t paid all commissions owed to him by IBM in the first quarter of 2018, the jury said.

The former second-line manager was awarded nearly $1.9 million in past economic damages, $3.1 million in future economic damages, $113,728 in unpaid commissions, and $6 million in emotional distress damages.

The Black salesman Kingston supported, Jerome Beard, on June 15 settled his separate suit against IBM over an alleged $2.4 million underpayment of commissions.

“We are disappointed by the jury’s verdict,” IBM said Friday in a statement. The company “does not condone retaliation, race discrimination, or any other form of discrimination” and " will consider all of its options on appeal.”

The Zoom trial before Judge Marsha J. Pechman in Kingston’s case began April 5, after the judge ruled March 1 that he had evidence that could prove his termination was tied to his backing Beard in his dispute with the company.

That included telling IBM that it went against company policy to cut Beard’s commissions and that the move could be seen as race bias, the judge said. Kingston also reported the race bias to an IBM auditor and had evidence supervisors involved in the decision to fire him were aware of his concerns regarding the alleged mistreatment of Beard, Pechman said.

Pechman also sent Kingston’s age discrimination claim to the jury, but it was dismissed by stipulation of the parties on the second day of the nine-day trial, court records show.

“Corporations have an obligation to address discrimination in the workplace,” Toby Marshall, an attorney for Kingston, told Bloomberg Law Friday in an email. “Scott Kingston was simply trying to protect another employee, and today his actions were vindicated.”

Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC and Whitfield Bryson LLP represented Kingston. Jackson Lewis PC and Byrnes Keller Cromwell LLP represented IBM.

The case is Kingston v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp., W.D. Wash., No. 2:19-cv-01488, jury verdict 4/15/21.

(Comment from counsel for Kingston added as 10th paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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