Businesswoman who sued FTSE 100 company LOSES sexism claim

Businesswoman who sued 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

  • Adrienne Liebenberg was sacked from her £200,000-per-year job at DS Smith
  • Ms Liebenberg then took her previous employer to an employment tribunal
  • Employment Judge Harjit Grewal dismissed her claims of sex discrimination

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’.

Liebenberg (pictured outside Victory House in Holborn, London in March this year) alleged that she was marginalised at DS Smith because did not want to join in with the male banter and work style.

Adrienne Liebenberg is pictured with her former DS Smith colleagues, with former line manager Stefano Rossi (centre) 

She claimed her boss Stefano Rossi, an Inter Milan fan, would often interrupt meetings to discuss football or watch highlights.

Ms Liebenberg added that she found it difficult to join in with these events, because she felt ‘alienated by the focus on drinking, and talking about football, and starting up late.’

She told 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’.’

‘I did not believe that I was accepted as ‘one of the lads’ and I did not feel that I was capable of playing such a role.

Ms Liebenberg (seen outside court on in March this year) joined international packing conglomerate DS Smith as director of global sales, marketing and innovation in March 2017 and was paid a £100,000 bonus on top of her £200,000-a-year salary

‘When I did not join in I felt under pressure to do so.’

However Mr Rossi and his senior colleagues at DS Smith – some of whom, including CEO Miles Roberts, were respondents to the discrimination claim – were adamant that Ms Liebenberg was sacked because of poor performance rather than sexism.

In a statement to the tribunal, Mr Rossi cited her ‘dictatorial approach’ and ‘lack of respect for senior colleagues’.

When Ms Liebenberg was sacked, Mr Rossi said that the company was seeking ‘a different leadership style,’ and criticised her for not being ‘collegial’ with other employees.

Mr Rossi, who admitted occasionally checking football scores on his phone, said he enjoyed wine because he was a trained sommelier and liked to deepen his knowledge, not get drunk.

Dismissing her claims of direct and indirect sex discrimination, Employment Judge Harjit Grewal 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 dinners normally lasted about three hours or a little longer and there was wine available for those who wanted it.

DS Smith (London headquarters pictured in an undated photo)  is a FTSE 100 company and an international packing conglomerate

‘The number of bottles consumed was normally half that of the the number of attendees.

‘The conversation over the dinners covered a variety of topics – people’s families, holidays, homes, interests, etc.

‘We have no doubt that football came up in the conversation sometimes, but it was not the only or the dominant topic of conversation.

‘We accept that the Claimant did not particularly like attending the dinners and often did not like the food that was available.

‘More importantly, we have not found that Mr Rossi’s complaints about the Claimant’s leadership style and not working collaboratively with the management team related to her not bonding with them over dinners because she did not drink or discuss football.

‘Mr Rossi also felt on the basis of what he had heard that the Claimant was adopting a haughty approach to her junior staff. She had made reference over dinner to her large property and an infinity pool.

Liebenberg, pictured in an undated photo, claims she was sacked from her £200,000 a year job at packaging giant DS Smith ‘because she did not want to talk about football and go out drinking with ‘the lads’

‘We have found that his concerns were about how she worked with the Regional MDs and the others in the management team, apportioning blame when things went wrong rather than working together to resolve the problem and not recognising and working within the budget constraints.’

The businesswoman joined DS Smith in March 2017 – and was handed a ‘special joining award’ of £100,000 on top of her six figure salary.

But tensions quickly grew between Ms Liebenberg and her line manager Mr Rossi, the company’s Packaging CEO.

The firm, Mr Rossi, Mr Roberts and HR director Tim Ellis had all denied sex discrimination.

However Employment Judge Grewal added: ‘The Claimant was the only woman in the respondent’s Leadership team.

‘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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