Employment and Migration Blog

Shades of DJs/McInnes/Fraser-Kirk: Harmers strikes again

Posted by on 4 Jul 2011

The SMH reported on 20 June that Sally Berkeley, an ex-employee of Pacific Brands (ASX200 company, majority of board being women) has sued for $9m for bullying and discrimination – Click here to view article

The claim, filed by Harmers, the lawyers who represented Fraser-Kirk’, is reported to be mainly for future loss of income, because of stress and panic attacks, arising from 

(a) behaviour of a bullying (male) manager, some of it recent, some of it verbal abuse, twice, in 2006 and 2007 for being late to meetings

(b) discrimination in being offered a promotion which required her to travel an extra 3 days a fortnight, when she needed to be home for her children, negotiating reduced travel requirements, but then receiving no additional pay for extra responsibility and losing bonus eligibility too.

She says her redundancy was a sham, cover for victimising her for standing up for her rights.

Pacific Brands says the allegations were thoroughly investigated, that Berkeley copied confidential info from her laptop, and that the claim will be vigorously defended. (She says one of her children accidentally downloaded the confidential info from her laptop).

The DJs case was such a media cause celebre that another similar case gets front-page, banner headline treatment, so we can expect to see blow-by-blow reporting of developments, and those of us fortunate enough not to be directly involved can study the twists and turns of allegations and counter-allegations and legal tactical moves. As an employment lawyer, fascinating stuff. I could say “Maybe I should get a life”, but this sort of thing also seems to excite quite a bit of interest in the HR community business generally (there but for the grace of God …) and around dinner tables too.

Certainly the media-savvy conduct of David-and-Goliath litigation gives it an added frisson of interest (and emphasises why we should all try to stay away from situations like this). As there seem to be fewer salacious angles to this one, perhaps it will not excite so much interest.. We’ll keep an eye on it as it develops.