Woman sues after alleged HR failings

by Iain Hopkins20 Oct 2011

A woman is suing computer giant IBM for failing to act after she reported being sexually harassed and bullied by a senior executive.

Susan Spiteri, who was a senior sales executive at the Melbourne office, will have her claim for $1.1m heard in Federal Court this week and will allege that when she reported the bullying and harassment to HR, she was told to go away and think about if she really wanted to pursue her complaint.

Spiteri said that between October 2008 and March 2009, she was repeatedly harassed and bullied by an executive, and this included sexual remarks, threats, intimidation, unreasonable demands, and being inappropriately touched.

In court documents she said that when she complained to senior HR 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 claimed that upon reflection, she was too intimidated to file an official complaint at the time. A spokeswoman from IBM said the company did not tolerate any type of harassment, and it would vigorously defend itself in court.

The spokeswoman added that Spiteri continues to receive compensation and support from IBM, and that the person against whom the harassment allegations were made left IBM two years ago.

Siobhan Keating, employment special counsel at Maurice Blackburn, is representing Spiteri and said in a statement that while IBM had a detailed policy that committed it to a harassment free workplace, it failed to act in this instance.

"It’s not enough for companies like IBM to have the right policies in place if they’re not enforced," she said.

Spiteri had worked for the company for 10 years, and said she has been unable to work since November 2009 due to emotional distress.

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