Executive takes IBM Australia to court over unfair dismissal claim

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Executive takes IBM Australia to court over unfair dismissal claim

A former sales executive who took IBM to court claiming he was made redundant because of his age has reached an agreement with the company behind closed doors. 

Lawyers representing Rolf Norbert Stockburger submitted to the ACT Federal Court in September 2016 that IBM created a new position above Stockburger, who was working as a project executive on a contract with the Department of Human Services from Canberra, before informing him his position had become redundant. The court heard IBM filled the new position with a younger staff member.

Stockburger, who was 64 at the time of his termination, had worked for IBM in various roles for more than 10 years over two stints, most recently as a sales and project executive. Previous roles included business unit manager and software sales manager. Stockburger also held a sales executive role at Lenovo after an earlier sales role with IBM.

Council representing Stockburger argued IBM had breached the Fair Work Act. Stockburger’s legal team reported that Stockburger played a significant role in developing and negotiating an IBM contract with DHS between 2014 and 2016, a condition of which was that he would serve in his role as project executive in the new services contract.

IBM informed Stockburger on 7 March that his position had been terminated, less than two months after entering into a new contract with DHS. 

Stockburger’s lawyers argued his position was not redundant and that IBM dismissed him because of his age. They requested he be reinstated and be paid compensation, in addition to court-determined penalties including those covering shock, distress and humiliation suffered as a result of the breaches.   

IBM denied the claim it had acted unlawfully in its dismissal of Stockburger, saying it created an entirely new position in line with “a fundamentally different contract” entered into with the DHS. The company argued that its decision to make the previous contract’s project executive position redundant had nothing to do with age. IBM claimed it encouraged Stockburger to apply for the new position but that Stockburger did not.

In November Justice Jagot ordered the parties to enter mediation, where the matter was resolved behind closed doors.  

The case is not the first time IBM has been caught up in age-related dismissal disputes, with a 63-year-old marketing professional demanding $350,000 from the corporation late last year after he was let go. That matter was also settled via mediation.

Rumours of IBM staff losing jobs have been widely reported in the past years. In January 2015, The Australian wrote that 400 employees may have had their positions affected by a "restructure".

The ABC wrote about "several hundred" of IBM's Australian workers being laid off in 2013, with another 1000 jobs to be slashed in the beginning of 2014.

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