There seem to have been a spate of cases in Australia in recent months surrounding discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy or child care responsibilities. Not all have gone in the employee’s favour, but the one that truly broke the mold was the case brought by a software engineer against her former employer, IBM, in Yeoh v IBM Australia Limited [2015] FCAA 724.

The employee claimed that IBM had discriminated against her on grounds of her gender and family responsibilities by unreasonably requiring her to work double her contracted working hours and by paying her less than her husband (who also worked for IBM). She even blamed the company for her marriage collapse. But the claim that mostly led to her downfall was that her manager had treated her less favourably by referring to her as a ‘baby brain’.

In most cases such a ‘term of endearment’ would ensure the success of a sexual harassment claim. But in this case the judge rejected the employee’s claim, finding that she had embellished her evidence and exaggerated her claims in order to try and advance her case. Judge Street said ‘to deliberately fabricate evidence to advance one’s case casts doubt on the credibility of the applicant in relation to the other areas of conflict of evidence between the applicant and the respondent’s witnesses’. He went on to find for IBM in relation to all of the allegations. 

Ultimately the claim proved a very costly lesson for the employee with the court ordering her to pay IBM $150,000 in costs following her decision to unreasonably reject IBM’s offer for both parties to drop hands and bear their own costs.