DS Smith ex-director takes former bosses to sexism tribunal

Rhys Handley
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

DS Smith chiefs are at the centre of a tribunal over claims from a former director that she was fired due to a sexist culture within the packaging giant.

DS Smith group chief executive Miles Roberts is cited in the tribunal
DS Smith group chief executive Miles Roberts is cited in the tribunal

Adrienne Liebenberg was the global sales, marketing and innovation director at the London-based global packaging conglomerate from March 2017 until December 2018 when she was fired over claims that she had a “dictatorial” leadership style and she was not “collegial” with other company members, according to Mail Online.

However, Liebenberg has now taken her case to the Central London Employment Tribunal on the grounds that she believes she was pressured out of major business decisions due to a male-oriented business culture that centred around “boozy dinners” and football, claiming that business meetings were often disrupted to talk about the sport or watch highlight clips.

The sex discrimination case was filed against her line manager, packaging chief executive Stefano Rossi, alongside group chief executive Miles Roberts and HR director Tim Ellis.

All three refute the claims put to the tribunal.

In a written statement, Liebenberg said: “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. When I did not join in, I felt under pressure to do so.

“I think that I have been particularly upset and angered because I believe that I have been treated as I have because I am a woman, either directly or indirectly.”

Paid a £200,000 annual salary as well as a £100,000 joining bonus, Liebenberg said she believed she was the highest-paid female member of staff at DS Smith at the time of her departure. She claimed the culture at the company had left her “with a deep sense of despair that women and men are not equals”.

Rossi submitted a written statement to the tribunal which referred to Liebenberg’s apparent “dictatorial approach” and “lack of respect for senior colleagues” as reasons for her sacking.

Responding to the ongoing case, a DS Smith spokesperson told Printweek: “DS Smith is firmly committed to both the principle and realisation of equal opportunities in the workplace and does not tolerate any form of discrimination.

“We refute the claims made by Ms Liebenberg and we will defend our position vigorously.”

In late February, DS Smith sold off its plastics business to US-based Olympus Partners for £400m shortly after the departure of chief financial officer Adrian Marsh to take a position at bookmaker William Hill.


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