IBM hit with $1.1 million harassment suit

IBM Australia has been hit with a $1.1 million lawsuit, with a former employee alleging the company failed to act on complaints of sexual harassment during her employment.

The female, a former senior sales consultant in the company’s Melbourne-based office, was allegedly the victim of threatening verbal abuse, lewd comments and inappropriate touching for almost two years.

Maurice Blackburn special counsel, Siobhan Keating, said in a statement the woman had lodged a claim against IBM in the Australian Human Rights Commission seeking $1.1 million in damages.

Keating did not name the client – who she said was in a “delicate mental state – but said that the complainant was an executive at the company with a salary in excess of $150,000 per year.

“She did her job very well until the appointment of a new senior manager, who systematically harassed and bullied her," Keating said.

According to Maurice Blackburn, the senior manager, who no longer works for the company, is accused of rubbing himself against the client as well as making comments such as “if you get your breasts out, you will get more sales”. The manager is also accused of repeatedly placing his hand on her leg and up her dress at some functions.

The former female employee in question was also allegedly subject to repeated bullying including yelling abuse, name calling, threats and intimidation, “unreasonable work demands” and calls late at night.

“Despite complaining to four managers, and our client’s obvious and visible distress which was affecting her performance, no action was taken for almost 18 months,” Keating said. “IBM’s inaction is impossible to understand.

“The attitude of IBM in the face of these serious allegations, including repeatedly turning a ‘blind eye’, urging our client not to make a formal complaint, and not wanting to be told of details, exacerbated the damage to our client’s career and health and pushed our client to the edge.”

According to the complainant’s legal counsel, she is now suffering from low self-esteem, loss of confidence, insomnia, anxiety and severe depression.

The damages were applied for to take into account pain and suffering, the loss of future earnings as a high salaried professional, and medical expenses.

“No one has a right to bully or sexually harass a colleague at work. IBM’s continued poor handling of this matter has harmed our client in the most severe of ways.”

“This kind of corporate inaction and trying to sweep the issues under the carpet is unacceptable.”

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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