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BlackBerry asks court to dismiss some claims in case alleging CEO harassed employee

June 6, 2024
The Canadian Press

BlackBerry Ltd. and its chief executive John Giamatteo have asked a U.S. court to dismiss some claims in a lawsuit filed by a former employee who claims the company's top executive sexually harassed her and then retaliated against her after she reported the behaviour. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Ryan

BlackBerry Ltd. and its chief executive John Giamatteo have asked a U.S. court to dismiss some of the claims made by a former employee who alleges Giamatteo sexually harassed her and then retaliated against her after she reported the behaviour.

In a filing made in a Northern California court this week, the Waterloo, Ont., cybersecurity company and Giamatteo say the unnamed plaintiff’s claims have no merit and are filled with “falsehoods and mischaracterizations.”

“The allegations made by the plaintiff fall well short of conduct that amounts to sexual harassment or discrimination,” BlackBerry spokeswoman Camilla Scassellati Sforzolini said in an email on Wednesday.

The company and Giamatteo want the court to throw out claims the plaintiff made suggesting she had encountered a hostile work environment, discriminatory pay and unpaid wages. They also want allegations about negligent hiring and failure to prevent harassment and discrimination to be dropped.

The plaintiff, who is a woman of colour, told The Canadian Press when she filed her lawsuit in April that Giamatteo had “tried to get close to her” and “woo” her, after he became the president of BlackBerry’s cybersecurity business in October 2021.

The woman known as Jane Doe claims in court documents that Giamatteo suggested the pair travel together and at a dinner she presumed was a business meeting, allegedly told her stories about how he dresses up when he’s out with his daughters so people mistake him for “a dirty old man” out on a date with them.

When she reported the behaviour, she said she started being cut out of meetings and later, was told she was being terminated effective immediately as part of a “restructuring.”

In the new court filings, the company and Giamatteo say the plaintiff lost her job at BlackBerry not because she reported harassment but because she was part of a layoff that culled more than 200 staff from the firm as it was separating its cybersecurity and internet of things businesses.

The filings say the plaintiff’s position fit into neither portion of the business and they felt she was “a poor fit to be placed in a new or different role because she had engaged in a long-term pattern of antagonistic and demeaning conduct toward colleagues, leading to a negative and toxic culture that surrounded her.”

In the two months prior to the plaintiff being let go, the documents say, a female employee reporting to her took medical leave to “address mental health issues caused by (the) plaintiff’s abusive behaviour, and another employee … quit on the spot when (the) plaintiff insisted he work around the clock on a weekend to complete a project on an unrealistic timeline.”

“Although a favourite of (former BlackBerry chief executive) John Chen, who sponsored her rapid rise, (the) plaintiff alienated virtually all of her peers through years of rude and divisive conduct,” the documents say.

They add that the plaintiff was offered the option to resign, but she declined.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Maria Bourn, fired back at the claims, saying BlackBerry “performed a sham investigation into Mr. Giamatteo’s indefensible behaviour.

“Now they submit a filing that doesn’t even tie to the law,” she said in an email.

Days after her client’s termination, BlackBerry named Giamatteo its new chief executive.

The plaintiff previously told The Canadian Press the move left her feeling shocked but she decided to pursue legal action because she felt if she was “silenced” it wouldn’t help other women.

“I feel like I have a responsibility, particularly having been at the executive level, to help other women, whether that is other women in BlackBerry or in the industry or broader than that,” she said in April.

“I am hoping that if they can hear my story, that that will help give them strength.”

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