Australian-based Just Group, owner of Portmans and Jay Jays, has been hit by a sex discrimination lawsuit lodged by a senior marketing manager who claims her job was downgraded while she was on maternity leave.
Helen Allegos alleges Mark McInnes, who came to Just Group after resigning as head of David Jones amid a sexual harassment scandal in 2010, left her out in the cold when he recruited new management late last year.
Allegos alleges that in November, while she was on leave from her A$190,000 ($243,000) a year job as general manager of Just Group's fast fashion group, McInnes threw her position into doubt by announcing the appointment of former David Jones executives Georgia Chewing as group general manager, internet and marketing, and Diana Young as general manager, advertising.
Just Group has yet to file a response to Allegos's Federal Court application but the company's general manager of human resources, Rose Phillips, said it denied the whole of her claim and described it as "opportunistic and without foundation".
In her claim, filed on Friday, Allegos alleges that before going on leave she had responsibility for marketing the company's youth-focused chains Portmans, Dotti and Jay Jays.
However, she said that as she prepared to return to work in March this year, she was told her role had been reduced to overseeing Jay Jays and Dotti and that she would be required to work four days a week instead of the two days a week agreed before she went on leave.
Allegos said she did not have access to company email while on leave and was told of the new appointments in an earlier meeting with McInnes on November 23 to discuss her return to work.
She said that when she asked McInnes what he knew about her, he replied: "Nothing."
During the meeting, McInnes allegedly told Allegos that he "felt there would be a space for her, but it was not clear what that looked like until the new marketing personnel started work".
The role Allegos was eventually offered allegedly "reduced the number and seniority of the Just Group employees directly reporting to" her, reduced oversight of marketing strategy and cut her management of relationships with advertising agencies.
She alleges Just Group downgraded her job because of her sex, her pregnancy and her responsibility to look after her two children and is seeking unspecified compensation - plus a two-month payout if she is found to have been made redundant.
It is believed Allegos has not returned to work, but Phillips said she "has been offered a role on the same money, with the same general manager status, working four days a week".
"'Her role has been maintained and is still open for her to return, reporting to Georgia Chewing who herself has just had a baby. Georgia has been intimately involved ensuring all of Helen's parental entitlements have been fully respected," she said.
Chewing said Just Group had "a genuine desire for Helen to come back to a meaningful role, commensurate with her previous status".
A first hearing of the case is set for July 23 in Melbourne.
- Sydney Morning Herald