Senior female executive who refused to socialise with male team loses sex discrimination claim

The claimant said she was marginalised because she didn't socialise with her male colleagues or like football
Stock pic/Shutterstock

A woman has lost her sex discrimination claim against her employer after fellow workers claimed she was “dictatorial” and lacked respect for her senior colleagues.

Adrienne Liebenberg was director of global sales, marketing and innovation at FTSE 100 packing conglomerate DS Smith, and was made redundant in December 2018 when she was told that her leadership style was not working.

Liebenberg took the company to an employment tribunal, claiming she had been marginalised because she didn’t socialise with her male colleagues and refused to talk about football.

She claimed that her manager, Stefano Rossi, would interrupt meetings to discuss his team Inter Milan’s performance and even watch highlights.

She told the Central London Employment Tribunal: “I felt that Stefano’s modus operandi was to connect with his team over wine, dinner and football.

“Because I did not embrace those things in the way that my male colleagues did, I was perceived – by Stefano and others – as not being a ‘team player’ or ‘one of the gang’.”

Liebenberg, who was paid £200,000 a year, also claimed she had been referred to as “little lady” and “girlie”, and was winked at by male colleagues.

In response to her claims, Rossi and his colleagues claimed Liebenberg had been sacked because of poor performance rather than her gender.

They cited her “dictatorial approach” and “lack of respect for senior colleagues” in their tribunal response.

Employment Judge Harjit Grewal dismissed claims for both direct and indirect sex discrimination.

He said: “She said that she felt that Mr Rossi’s modus operandi was to connect with his team over wine, dinner and football, and because she did not embrace those things in the way that her male colleagues did, she was perceived by them as not being a team player.

“We have not found that such a culture existed.”

The Judge added that Rossi felt Liebenberg’s approach was “haughty” towards junior staff, in that she often talked about her large property and swimming pool.

The respondents also accused her of apportioning blame when things went wrong rather than working together with other managers to resolve problems.

Judge Grewal also noted, however, that she was “the only woman in the respondent’s leadership team”.

He added: “The extent of the lack of gender diversity at the senior levels of DS Smith is unacceptable and needs to be addressed.”

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