Adrienne Liebenberg, businesswoman who sued DS Smith, FTSE 100 company, after she was sacked from £200K-a-year job ‘because she did not want to talk about football and go out drinking with ‘the lads”, LOSES sexism claim

A piece in the Daily Mail from 30 June. Far too much of the piece is taken up with the unsubstantiated claims made by Adrienne Liebenberg. The start:

A £200,000 a year businesswoman who claimed she was sacked from a major FTSE 100 company because she did not want to discuss football and go out drinking with ‘the lads’ has lost her sexism claim.

Adrienne Liebenberg was fired from her job as Director of Global Sales, Marketing and Innovation at international packing conglomerate DS Smith in December 2018 after being told that her leadership style was ‘not working’.

However Ms Liebenberg who had previously worked at oil and gas giant BP Castrol – took the firm to an employment tribunal, arguing that she had been sacked because of her gender.

Ms Liebenberg alleged that she was marginalised at DS Smith because did not want to join in with the male banter and work style.

She claimed that key business decisions were often taken over boozy dinners with a ‘gang’ of senior male employees – where the practice was ‘bonding, drink, and football’.

It was an interesting case, which she lost. The Employment Tribunal report starts with this:

The unanimous judgment of the Tribunal is that:

1 The complaint of victimisation is dismissed upon withdrawal;
2 The complaint of direct sex discrimination is not well-founded; and
3 The complaint of indirect sex discrimination is not well-founded.

Over pp.39/40 we find this remarkable text (section #186):

In considering both those issues we took into account the following facts. Although it is common for the manufacturing industry to be male dominated and it is accepted that male engineering graduates significantly outnumber female engineering graduates in many countries, the extent of the lack of gender diversity at the senior levels of DS Smith is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. [J4MB emphasis] During the Claimant’s period of employment there were no women on the Group Operating Committee or on the Executive. 9 out of the 54 roles at the next level down, were filled by women. The Claimant was one of them and six were in HR and Legal functions. Within the top 150 employees, 19 were women. Most of those 19 women felt that gender was an obstacle to progression at DS Smith, albeit indirectly and unconsciously. They had concerns about unconscious bias and stereotypical assumptions. About half of them felt that DS Smith was not an inclusive workplace and had experienced or witnessed inappropriate behaviour (see paragraph 121 above). The Claimant had been referred to as a “girlie” and “little lady” and had been winked at. [J4MB: For £200,000 a year FTSE100 executives could refer to me by these terms and wink at me all day. No problem.] The Claimant was the only woman in R1’s Leadership team.

Since when is it part of an Employment Tribunal’s remit to make gender political points, especially points irrelevant to the case in hand? I’d have thought that a perfectly reasonable decision for DS Smith to take after this case would be great reluctance to recruit or promote women to senior positions – and who could blame them?

So, who were the members of the tribunal? They are described at the start of the report as:

Employment Judge H Grewal, Mr J Carroll and Mr D Kendall

A Google search for Grewal led me to this. Key content:

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 21 September 2009
The Lord Chancellor, the Right Honourable Jack Straw MP, has appointed Harjit Kaur Grewal to be a Salaried Employment Judge of the Employment Tribunals (England and Wales). Ms Grewal will be assigned to the London Central Region, with effect from 1 October 2009.

Notes to Editors
Harjit Kaur Grewal is 52. She was called to the Bar (G) in 1980 and was appointed as a Fee-paid Chairman of the Employment Tribunals (England and Wales) in 2003.

So Grewal is a feminist of about 63 years of age. She should be forced to retire early on the grounds of section #186 alone. Mr J Carroll and Mr D Kendall should hang their heads in shame for the section. But at least – miraculously – they unanimously arrived at a sound judgment.

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