IBM was recently named one of the most attractive employers by Universum. But the computer giant's image is a little shaken right now. A former IBM sales executive in Australia is suing the company for $1.1 million, because her superior allegedly harassed her for nearly two years, while colleagues and managers ignored her many complaints.
Susan Spiteri, 42, began working for IBM in 1999, and became a successful salesperson, earning $150,000 a year. In 2007, however, a new manager arrived, Joe Arcuri. Until Spiteri changed departments in the summer of 2009, Arcuri repeatedly groped and rubbed himself against her, put his hands up her dress, mocked her to colleagues and customers, screamed at her, called her "stupid," and asked her to "get her boobies out" to increase sales, according to the lawsuit filed with the Australian Federal Court.
"IBM was my life. I loved my job. I loved my customers. I loved what I did, it was my identity," she told ABC. But the two years of alleged abuse transformed her into a "different person."
It all began, she claims, at a work dinner. Arcuri allegedly ran his hand up her thigh several times, beckoned her to sit next to him, and then asked her to lower her dress and expose her breasts. The harassment supposedly escalated over the years, with Arcuri even harassing Spiteri in full view of colleagues, customers and managers.
None of these individuals took action, she claims, even after she directly complained to them. Even after they saw her crying daily at her desk. They might have been afraid.
"People would resign, rather than take him on," she told the Herald Sun.
Spiteri allegedly lodged a formal complaint with IBM in May 2009, prompting the company to conduct an investigation. Arcuri resigned in August, but then joined a company that was a client of IBM, and also housed in the same building. She was terrified, she says, of bumping into him.
"I felt that we were just numbers working with IBM. All they care about is themselves not their staff," she told ABC.
After leaving IBM at the end of the year, Spiteri says she had a nervous breakdown, and attempted suicide several times. She feels traumatized.
"I can't even think for next week because there are days where I don't leave home."
Last week, IBM lost a court bid to keep the details of the case private. A spokesman said that the company in no way tolerates harassment and will "vigorously defend" the charges in court.
If Spiteri wins the $1.1 million, it will be the largest sexual harassment payout in Australian history. A U.S. jury awarded its largest payout of all time just this summer, the slightly steeper sum of $95 million.
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