IBM wins court case following discrimination claims

by Chloe Taylor14 Apr 2015
International tech giant IBM has won a Federal Circuit Court case after an employee took legal action against the company, alleging she had been overworked following her return from maternity leave.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Kelly Yeoh, who was employed as a software engineer, was ordered to pay IBM $150,000 in costs.

Yeoh alleged that although she was only supposed to be working 20 hours per week, during some weeks she had been working 60 hours.

According to Judge Sandy Street, Yeoh took maternity leave in 2008 while she was working for IBM in Canberra, and following a relocation to Adelaide she returned to work at the company’s South Australia office.

IBM approved Yeoh’s request for a reduction in her hours.

The Herald reported that a manager at IBM stated Yeoh had to “skill up” due to changes in the project she was assigned to, and said that her performance was good until early 2010.

In March 2010, the manager voiced concerns about Yeoh’s productivity.

Yeoh alleged that she suffered discrimination by being required to work for more than the agreed 20 hours per week, and claimed that she worked between 40 and 60 hours each week for almost 14 months.

She said that she had been given a weekly workload which could not be performed in 20 hours.

However, the Judge ruled that Yeoh had not been directed to work the longer hours.

“While it is true that the applicant did make complaints about her workload, I do not accept that she was working more than 20 hours a week on any regular basis,” Judge Street found. “I accept that she was working odd hours, due to the flexibility that she had as a result of her own request for that part-time employment. I do not accept that the applicant was given a workload that required her to work the excess of 20 hours per week.”

Yeoh claimed that she had raised her complaints verbally but had not made a written complaint about the discrimination because she was fearful of the outcome – but Judge Street rejected this claim.

The Judge said he favoured evidence from IBM managers who said Mrs Yeoh was told she should not work more than 20 hours. And he rejected Mrs Yeoh's allegations of discrimination on the basis of reasons including her gender and being a young mother.

The Judge said that Yeoh was “clearly a highly intelligent, articulate and capable individual who was well able to formulate and make written complaints if she chose to do so”.

Street favoured evidence given by IBM managers, who stated that Yeoh was told she should not work for more than 20 hours in a week.

The Judge also rejected Yeoh’s allegations that she had been discriminated against based on her gender and being a new mother. 

"IBM’s equal employment policy and practices promote a culture of inclusion for all - regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation," an IBM spokesperson said in a statement. "Employment equality is firmly entrenched at IBM and the diversity of our workforce is critical to our company’s success. The court found in IBM's favour, acknowledging our commitment to policies that promote a supportive workplace, and that evidence was fabricated to advance the case against the company."


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