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A man’s personal experience with corporate heartlessness

Don Davis is a cryptographer from Somerville. For 30 years he has worked in cyber security, and two years ago he landed a job with the Boston-based subsidiary of BAE Systems, a British company that is one of the world’s biggest defense contractors.

At the time, his wife, Elisabeth Traumann, was dying from a rare form of stomach cancer.

On his first day on the job, Davis met with his supervisor, Chris Bryant, at the company’s downtown office, and explained his family’s situation. Davis told Bryant that his wife had only weeks to live, that he had two kids at home, and that while he had arranged for his wife to have caregivers during the work day, he was the primary caregiver at all other times.


Davis said he could work his normal 40-hour week, but that, for whatever time his wife had left, he had to be at home at nights and weekends to take care of her. The doctors estimated she’d live anywhere from two weeks to two months.

Davis says Bryant responded the way you would hope any decent human being would: “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. We’ll work with you on this.”

But sympathy was not on offer when Davis explained his situation to the woman who ran the company’s human resources department.

“All she did was rant at me,” Davis told me.

In their 15-minute meeting, Davis said, the woman didn’t entertain temporary alternative arrangements, such as working from home if needed. She simply insisted he needed to be available at the office 24/7.

Elisabeth Traumann and Don Davis at their Somerville home.Davis family

Later, Davis was summoned to a meeting with Bryant, the woman from human resources and the company’s senior vice president, where Davis was informed his job offer was being rescinded.

Don Davis had been in the office all of four hours.


Davis dreaded telling his wife the news. She was in the hospital with an infection. Her husband’s new job had been a godsend, because it would ensure health insurance for her and their daughter, who has a chronic medical condition.

Elisabeth Traumann had one last shot, a novel treatment using a drug regimen that had shown promise. But when Davis told her he had lost the job, she seemed to deflate. She later told her best friend that she blamed herself for ruining her husband’s career.

“It just unraveled,” Don Davis said. “The next day, we had to get her into hospice. It forestalled the treatment. There was no guarantee, but it was the last hope we had.”

Elisabeth Traumann, a psychologist, died two months later. She was 57.

Don Davis recently filed a federal lawsuit against BAE. His lawyer, Rebecca Pontikes, contends Davis was discriminated against because the company “requires its male employees to be the stereotypical male breadwinner and to leave family responsibilities to women.”

When it comes to being punished by a corporate culture that doesn’t care about the work-life balance, women have often borne the brunt. But Pontikes says an increasing number of men are getting mistreated like Davis.

BAE issued a statement to me saying, “we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and work hard to provide our employees with flexible working options that enable them to have a meaningful work/life balance.” But, citing pending litigation, the company wouldn’t discuss specifics.

If I was BAE’s lawyer, I’d be pushing for a settlement. I wouldn’t want to roll the dice with a jury, defending the soullessness of the machine.


But Davis told me he doesn’t want to settle.

“I can’t get even with them financially. The company’s worth about $22 billion,” he said. “There’s no jury award that would make a dent in them. The only revenge I can get is to expose this. It was pretty pitiless.”

Davis doesn’t want to ruin the individuals who gave the orders. He wants to put corporate heartlessness on trial.

“I’m a Christian,” Don Davis said. “I have to forgive people. I don’t have to forgive corporations.”

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.