A senior IT worker on sick leave since 2008 tried to sue a tech giant for discrimination because he hasn’t been given a pay rise.
Ian Clifford claimed he was the victim of disability discrimination by IBM because his salary had not been increased in the 15 years he had been off work.
Under an IBM health plan, the IT specialist receives more than £54,000 a year and is guaranteed to receive the salary until he is 65 – meaning he will pocket more than £1.5 million.
However. Mr Clifford argued it was “not generous enough”. He said that his £54,028 salary would “wither” over time through inflation.
An employment tribunal in Reading, Berks, heard Mr Clifford, who studied at King's College London, started working for Lotus Development in 2000 before it was acquired by IBM.
He went on sick leave in September 2008 and was still off work in 2013, when he raised a grievance.
Reached an agreement
Mr Clifford complained that he had not received a pay rise and or any holiday pay for the five-year period.
In April 2013, when Mr Clifford was in his mid-30s, a “compromise agreement” was reached and his complaints were settled by putting him on the company’s disability plan.
Under the plan, a person who is unable to work is not dismissed but remains an employee and has “no obligation to work”, the hearing was told.
An employee on the plan has a right until recovery, retirement, or death if earlier, to be paid 75 per cent of agreed earnings.
In Mr Clifford’s case his agreed salary was £72,037, meaning from 2013 he would be paid £54,028 per year after 25 per cent was deducted.
The plan was fixed in place for more than 30 years until he reached retirement age at 65, meaning he will receive a total of more than £1.5 million.
He was also paid £8,685 to settle his holiday pay complaints in 2013 and agreed never to raise a further grievance about the same issues.
But in February 2022 Mr Clifford took IBM to an employment tribunal with new disability discrimination claims mirroring his previous grievance.
He said he had been treated “unfavourably” with no salary increase since 2013 or holiday entitlement and compared himself to a non-disabled employee who would have been paid their full salary during holidays.
Mr Clifford said that with inflation now running at more than 10 per cent the “value of the payments would soon wither”.
He said: “The point of the plan was to give security to employees not able to work – that was not achieved if payments were forever frozen.”
‘It is not discrimination’
However, employment Judge Paul Housego dismissed his case.
Judge Housego said: “That active employees may get pay rises, but inactive employees do not, is a difference, but is not, in my judgment, a detriment caused by something arising from disability.
“The complaint is in fact that the benefit of being an inactive employee on the plan is not generous enough because the payments have been at a fixed level since April 6, 2013, now 10 years, and may remain so.
“The claim is that the absence of increase in salary is disability discrimination because it is less favourable treatment than afforded those not disabled.
“This contention is not sustainable because only the disabled can benefit from the plan.
“It is not disability discrimination that the plan is not even more generous.
“Even if the value of the £50,000 a year halved over 30 years, it is still a very substantial benefit.”
Judge Housego continued: “However, this is not the issue for, fundamentally, the terms of something given as a benefit to the disabled, and not available to those not disabled, cannot be less favourable treatment related to disability.
“It is more favourable treatment, not less.”
A LinkedIn profile for Mr Clifford states he is from Guildford, Surrey, is medically retired and has a son.