VMware embroiled in bitter dispute with Australian ex-sales director

Former VMware Australia enterprise sales director Steve Coad is seeking compensation for what he says was an unfair dismissal from the company almost two years ago at the hands of allegedly 'aggressive' and 'belittling' management.

Next week, the Federal Court in Victoria will hear an unfair dismissal dispute from VMware Australia's former enterprise sales director Steve Coad, seeking compensation for his retrenchment amid claims of harassment.

Coad was hired by VMware in late 2009 alongside then-commercial sales director Duncan Bennet , both reporting to Paul Harapin. The company announced at the time that Coad had come to the business from senior roles at IBM, EMC, and Cisco.

In 2011, Harapin was moved up to the role of vice president of business development and cloud for Asia-Pacific for VMware before ultimately leaving the company in June 2012. Bennet stepped up and became the MD for VMware Australia in April 2011.

According to Coad's statement of claim lodged in the Federal Court in March 2012 and obtained by ZDNet, Harapin had allegedly "provided no guidance" for the expectations placed on Coad, and "behaved in an aloof and distant manner" to Coad, allegedly failing to respond to calls, messages, and emails. In sales calls, Coad alleges that Harapin was "aggressive and often belittling and demeaning" towards him.

In September 2010, Coad said he complained to the HR director about the issues, and was allegedly informed it was up to Coad to resolve the issues with Harapin.

Coad alleges that in his annual performance review, he was given a two out of five from Harapin, causing Coad to miss out on promised shares in VMware and a trip to Hawaii for overachieving sales staff, which Coad claims he was entitled to attend due to surpassing his sales targets.

Once Bennet took over, Coad says Bennet agreed to review the performance review rating, but Bennet then allegedly informed Coad that Harapin had been only two weeks away from "firing" Coad. He said that Bennet's approach to management was also "aloof" and standoffish, and he allegedly referred to Coad as "boy".

Eventually, in January 2012, VMware terminated Coad's employment, but Coad said that he was told it was not related to his performance. Coad alleges that he was not allowed to collect his belongings himself on the day, and was escorted from the Melbourne office. He said that VMware retrospectively claimed that Coad was made redundant, but the company offered him no alternative employment within VMware.

Coad claims that VMware breached the Fair Work Act in regards to his workplace rights, and is seeking damages for his financial loss, distress, damage to professional reputation, and loss of career. According to court documents, Coad is seeking a total of AU$2 million from the company.

Coad told ZDNet that he is seeking what he was entitled to when he was originally employed by VMWare.

In VMware's defence statement, the company denies most of the claims put forward, and says Coad was not entitled to VMware shares as part of his performance rating.

The company said that in January 2012, it decided to restructure the Australian and New Zealand businesses to "better align the director sales function" and Coad was offered a redundancy package, but admits it did not offer alternative employment options to Coad.

In a statement, VMware told ZDNet that it had complied with employment law at all times with Coad.

"It is VMware's position that we have at all times complied with all employment laws and obligations with respect to Mr Coad. Beyond that, we will not comment on ongoing litigation," a spokesperson for VMware said.

ZDNet understands that there had been attempts to delay the start of the case, but Justice Tony Pagone has insisted that the hearing get under way next week. The case is set to be heard over eight days, from February 3 to April 3.

Coad has since been appointed as the Australian managing director of wireless network vendor Aruba Networks .