Beacon of female equality in court over accusations of bullying

A SACKED executive at a firm that promotes its superior record in the employment of women in senior ranks has mounted a $9 million unlawful dismissal case over claims of bullying and discrimination.

Sally Berkeley, who ran Pacific Brands’ bra division Berlei before becoming the head of women’s underwear last year, alleges she was bullied by the underwear general manager, Ross Taylor, and that her redundancy in December was a sham.

Ms Berkeley is represented by the law firm Harmers Workplace, which made headlines last year when it ran a $37 million sexual harassment claim brought by a David Jones publicist, Kirsty Fraser-Kirk, against the retailer and its former chief executive Mark McInnes.

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A Pacific Brands spokesman said the company was ”disappointed at baseless allegations” in Ms Berkeley’s claim and would ”vigorously defend” itself.

The spokesman for the company, one of only a handful of ASX 200 companies to have a majority of women on its board, said it was recognised as the ”leading company for the employment of women and for valuing and fostering the inclusiveness of its workforce”.

He said Ms Berkeley’s claims of bullying ”were fully investigated by the company” before she was sacked and found ”not to have any substance”.

In her application to the Federal Court, Ms Berkeley alleges she ”experienced and was subjected to bullying and unacceptable behaviour” from Mr Taylor from 2006 to 2007, including twice ”being verbally abused” for being late to a meeting.

From 2008 her work meant she had less contact with Mr Taylor.

But she alleges she again clashed with him last year, when they were working closely together as the company restructured the division.

Pacific Brands made Ms Berkeley redundant in early December and sacked her just before Christmas, alleging she had copied confidential documents from her laptop.

Ms Berkeley denies deliberately taking any confidential documents and alleges she was sacked for requesting a pay rise when she was promoted and for ”standing up to the bullying conduct of Mr Taylor”.

Ms Berkeley says that since being sacked she has needed medical treatment for stress and suffered panic attacks.

She has been told by recruitment consultants that she will be out of work for about 12 months ”and it will be extremely difficult for her to find a suitable position at the same level”.

Ms Berkeley is seeking $8.95 million, including more than $8.3 million for ”anticipated future economic loss” and $500,000 for ”dislocation of life, pain and suffering, stress, humiliation and loss of professional reputation”.

The case has been set down for a directions hearing in Melbourne on July 22.