Allegations aired in IBM harassment case

The woman at the centre of the $1.1 million sexual harassment case against IBM Australia has had her allegations against a former manager aired in the Federal Court.

The woman at the centre of the $1.1 million sexual harassment case against IBM Australia has had her allegations against a former manager aired in the Federal Court, alleging that she was touched inappropriately on several occasions and told to flirt with customers and expose herself for sales.


(My trusty gavel image by Brian Turner, CC2.0)

The woman at the centre of the dispute has alleged that between 2007 and 2009 she was repeatedly harassed, bullied and abused both directly and indirectly by one of IBM's former System Technology Group executives.

Court documents obtained by ZDNet Australia reveal the full extent of the allegations.

The woman is alleging she was physically harassed by the executive at a dinner function put on by IBM Australia in October 2007. At the event, she claims that she was invited to sit next to the executive at one point, before he allegedly attempted to put his hands up her dress and commented on her breasts and asked to see them. The woman maintains she asked him to stop, pushed him away and returned to her seat, feeling "humiliated, embarrassed, intimidated, angry and distressed".

The document also contains allegations that, between October 2007 and March 2008, the executive visited her office and repeatedly touched her, brushing up against her, pressing his body against her and physically trapping her in the office. She also claims that, over a six-month period, the executive made lewd comments about using her physical appearance to get sales in ad hoc meetings.

The allegations also extend beyond a physical and sexual nature, with the woman claiming that the executive repeatedly "barked" at her, criticised and screamed at her as well as called her outside normal work hours. The executive also repeatedly demanded her resignation due to poor performance.

The woman says that she worked in IBM Australia's open plan Melbourne office, and was "in tears almost every day at her desk".

Court documents recount her efforts to report the alleged harassment to IBM Australia's senior human resources managers in January 2008. She was allegedly told by HR staff that "We [IBM] take this seriously, I want you to go away and think about it, about reporting this further. I want you to get back to me by Friday as to whether you want to go forward". She claims that upon reflection, she was too scared to file an official complaint at the time.

After more alleged inappropriate behaviour on the part of the executive, she filed an official complaint in 2009. Allegations were reportedly put to the executive who tendered his resignation in August. He did not respond to the allegations.

Maurice Blackburn, the legal firm representing the woman at the centre of the case, said in the court documents that the actions of the executive took place in connection with his employment with IBM Australia and breaches the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

IBM Australia told ZDNet Australia that it would defend itself in court against the allegations.

"IBM does not tolerate harassment of any type. The claimant remains an employee of IBM and continues to receive comprehensive benefits and support. The person against whom the harassment allegations were made left IBM two years ago.

"We will vigorously defend ourselves in court," the company said in a statement today.

The case is listed for a first directions hearing in the Federal Court of Australia on 18 November 2011 at 9:30am.