Last week, the scene was set for a three-day court battle involving Computacenter and former employee Caroline Olds, as the two parties fought to argue their case.
As revealed last week in PC Dealer (11 June), Olds sued the reseller for unfair dismissal on the grounds of sexual discrimination, and was seeking #170,000 compensation for six months? lost wages.
She claimed she left Computacenter after remaining in the same position of account manager for nine years while positions were created for her male colleagues as promotional moves.
Olds added that although she was given a title promotion of business unit manager, it was removed after a year.
The plaintiff gave several examples of colleagues who had new positions created for them. ?When Gavin [Quinney] told me of my move back to account manager I begged him for work with new business because of my experience with resellers. He acknowledged my expertise but said he couldn?t create new positions.?
She also cited the examples of David Sibley, who was promoted to new business manager, and Steve Forster, who had the position of special events organiser created for him.
But Computacenter hit back, claiming it had promoted Sibley in recompense for the four years he spent getting a new account from BT ? the biggest of its kind in the European IT industry ? which he was excluded from when the telecoms giant decided on a different account manager. Sibley lost a huge commission payment, which prompted the reseller to promote him to new business manager.
Olds also complained that her performance review in August 1996 had been unfairly carried out. She had a meeting with her manager, Chris Webb, but was docked five per cent of her bonus for failing to produce slides for her presentation. Olds claimed slides were not a requirement of the presentation, but Webb retorted that he had docked other employees? wages, including one employee who lost 50 per cent of their bonus, for general incompetence.
The plaintiff also claimed that in August 1995, she was travelling with Computacenter CEO Mike Norris when he took a call from his personal assistant informing him that another female account manager was trying to track him down. In response, he allegedly said: ?Women are difficult to manage ? when you get a good one they?re excellent, but this is rare. Mostly they?re very difficult to cope with.?
Refuting Olds? claims, the lawyers representing Computacenter claimed that over 90 per cent of the reseller?s account managers retained the same job title throughout their career and that the company had a very flat management structure, with only seven managers below CEO.
The case hinged on the interpretation of a meeting held on 17 September between Olds, Webb and Quinney ? general manager of sales. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Olds? handling of two of her main accounts, Mercury and Flemings Merchant Bank, in the light of complaints made by the companies. Webb also had a meeting arranged with a third account ? Readers Digest ? also concerning Olds? management.
In his evidence, Quinney claimed that after outlining the situation to Olds, he offered ?a full and frank? discussion of her options, the first of which was a ?generous exit package?.
Under oath, both Quinney and Webb stated that at the time, Olds expressed no interest in any option other than an exit package. They claimed the whole discussion was about what the figure might be.
Quinney made an initial offer of #50,000, based on an estimated six months? earnings. According to Quinney, Olds said: ?Come on you can do better than that,? and that a figure of #65,000 was agreed. Quinney said he felt he could have closed the deal, but since they had moved so fast, it would only be fair for everyone to think it over and get legal advice.
At the time, Quinney said, he believed that an ?amicable and constructive parting? had been achieved.
But Olds maintained that she was given no opportunity to defend herself and was given only one option. She said she ?was prepared to consider it? and was still doing so when she was dismissed three days later. At no point did she believe she had agreed to anything, except to write up her hand-over notes.
She also agreed not to attend a sales forum at Euro Disney. Webb, Quinney and Olds agreed a story that she was visiting her sick father in the US to disguise her absence. However Olds changed her mind and turned up at the conference, insisting she was rejecting their offer and was still a Computacenter employee.
It was here, according to Olds, that she was sacked by Webb and put in a taxi to leave. She later stayed in the Hilton, because she couldn?t get a flight, and wanted Computacenter to pay the bill. But Webb claimed he told her to wait in another employee?s room to avoid embarrassment. He denied sacking her, claiming a mutual agreement had already been decided.
Following Euro Disney, the reseller offered Olds #68,000, which Quinney claimed she had accepted. During the next few days Computacenter advanced Olds #27,000 in two separate payments, as part of the final settlement.
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