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Sexism case against tech firm Splunk won by sales executive

After her clients were re-allocated to others in what she described as an ‘old boys’ network’ a sales executive has won her claim for sex discrimination.

Nadine Lee began working as regional sales manager for Splunk – an analytical data firm – in 2013, based in the London branch of the company.

Splunk is a fast-growing firm which was founded in 2001 in Silicon Valley. Ms Lee became global account manager in 2014. By 2018 she was earning approximately £700k per year. This was made up of a base salary of £95k, performance bonus and commission.

In 2017 Ms Lee was highly praised by Splunk’s COO for landing two huge deals with two clients.

Ms Lee was praised for doing a masterful job when closing on the biggest EMEA deal of the quarter. Splunk’s chief executive stated that they were ‘so proud of your game and accomplishment. Well done Nadine and Team.’

After her exceptional performance Ms Lee was granted six months unpaid leave in March 2018. This was for her to ‘recharge her batteries.’ Splunk described this time off as a ‘goodwill gesture.’

At the time she accepted the six months unpaid leave it was made clear to Ms Lee that on her return she would reassume her role as global account manager.

In her absence her position was filled by Steven Gracey. Gracey had previously worked with two colleagues at Adobe, namely senior HR business partner Julie Ward and UK vice president Alan Banks.

Raj Dosanjh, who had previously worked for Gracey was also headhunted.

Ms Lee became aware in April that the two long-term clients she had been praised for were reassigned to Dosanjh. She later discovered that he was earning a higher basic salary than she was.

Despite her historic sales success, Ms Lee was not nominated for the EMEA Sales Manager of the Year award.

Employment Judge Lewis and the tribunal panel were critical of communication which took place between Spunk and Ms Lee once she became aware of what had taken place in her absence.

Taking advice from Julie Ward, Gracey sent an email to Ms Lee saying that they needed to talk about the allocation of clients on her return. Gracey copied the email to Alan Banks.

Ms Lee replied that she was looking forward to meeting Gracey and ‘hitting the ground running.’ She said that she appreciated him handling her accounts while she was absent. She further said that she wanted to discuss the EMEA Sales Manager award and how the candidate was decided.

Right away Banks replied to Gracey and Ward, saying that ‘the game begins.’ Gracey emailed back ‘yes.’

Ward stated in a new email chain, that she agreed ‘the game had begun.’ She suggested Gracey start a new email thread and withhold Ms Lee’s name so that she could not request data subject access.

Judge Lewis said that the tribunal were concerned about the email because Miss Ward was suggesting that when managers communicated with Ms Lee they would artificially omit her name so that she would never be able to see it on request.

This omission would also have the effect of concealing certain documents from disclosure. The reason for this particular email coming to light was because Mr Banks had responded to it using Ms Lee’s name. There may still have been other emails which are unfound.

The EMEA Sales Manager award was presented to the highest attaining regional sales manager and Ms Lee who was the highest attainer, was not nominated.

Ms Lee raised a grievance about the removal of bot her accounts, the way that it was carried out and the failure to award her sales manager of the year. She further complained about the hiring of Dosanjh and his salary, which was higher than hers.

‘A high-performing ethnic female pushed aside for the old boys’ network.’ Ms Lee resigned in August 2018.

A unanimous decision by the tribunal found Spunk had unfairly and constructively dismissed Ms Lee. They had treated her unfavourably because of her sex.

The tribunal ruled that in relocating her client accounts, sex, and race discrimination in the nomination for sales manager Ms Lee had been the subject of victimisation.

The tribunal also ruled in favour of her equal pay claim in relation to Ms Lee’s pay vs Dosanjh’s pay.

Judge Lewis commented that Ms Lee had been a top performer – if not the top performer – in the EMEA division for several years. He said that the removal and relocation of her accounts without her consent was detrimental.

Her account were high-value and Ms Lee had built up her relationship with the clients to secure high profile deals. The way her accounts were handled was both hurtful and humiliating.

A remedy hearing will be arranged soon.

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