A payroll and HR manager at Uniqlo in the Melbourne, Australia branch is now suing the Japanese retail brand for alleged bullying and discrimination because of her “Caucasian heritage,” claiming that the company gives favorable treatment to its Asian employees.
Melanie Bell, in a statement on Friday, said that she was bullied on four occasions and that she was held back from a pay raise as well as promotions by Uniqlo executives, according to Daily Mail.
She is suing the retail store for at least $1 million Australian dollars ($716,000), seeking compensation for “ongoing loss of income, pain and suffering, reputational damage, stress, sleep deprivation and anxiety, and diminished employment prospects,” the report noted.
“The applicant believes that she was discriminated against because of her Caucasian heritage and she was denied career advancement opportunities because of her gender,” the court document states according to News.com.au. “The respondent failed to promote the applicant and other non-Asian and female senior managers in the business while promoting other senior managers who were ex-pats and/or male and/or of Asian descent.”
Bell was working for a mining company in 2015 before she was approached by Uniqlo. The company allegedly told her that she was “instrumental” and could expect “significant professional growth opportunities” during her interview.
She was then recognized as a “global talent” and a “future leader” through the internal program and received performance review scores indicating she was “exceeding expectations” or “meeting expectations.”
Despite all this, Bell claimed she was still denied career advancement opportunities within Uniqlo, and that management denied her a promotion during a performance review with then-chief executive Shiochi Miyasaki and Uniqlo chief operating officer Kenji Tsuji, citing her negative attitude as the reason in March 2017 – the same month her mother passed away – through April 2017.
Bell’s claim continued, saying that she was told in another performance evaluation that she could not get promoted until the “Workday” HR software, which she rolled out in the company, had been “successfully implemented and in place” for six to 12 months. She was given a pay increase of $3,000 Australian dollars ($2,149).
However, finance manager Cessna Avianto, an employee “of Asian background,” was allegedly given a “substantially exceeding expectations” performance review for his configuration of the “SAP” finance system that was to be “ready for implementation.” The claim said that he was promoted and was given an $8,000 Australian dollar ($5,732) raise.
“The applicant believes Mr Avianto’s promotion in February 2018 and his salary increase was an example of the discriminatory behaviour typical at the respondent,” a statement in the claim said.
Uniqlo, however, denies this and said in its defense that Avianto’s performance was “far superior” to Bell’s.
In late 2017, Bell had her role changed to manager of culture, strategy, safety and systems, and that she became “less focused on payroll and more focused on people and culture leadership and strategy,” according to the court document. However, she was allegedly not given a position description, goals, or key performance indicators for her new role. And in a subsequent performance review, she was told that she needed to “build relationships” with the Japan headquarters to be promoted, but she was allegedly prevented from doing so.
According to the statement, Sasaki made clear in various conversations that he was the bridge which connects Uniqlo Australia and global HQ, and that “it was his role to liaise with GHQ regarding human resource matters.”
Bell, who dedicated herself to the creation of a leadership development program, expressed her intention to her bosses in late 2017 to resign in the future, but both Sasaki and Tsuji assured her that she is needed to help in the leadership program.
Around the same time that year, Bell claimed that she asked to attend the company’s global placement program in Japan, but Tsuji denied her request. Tsuji then canceled the series of meetings that would discuss the LDP due to “trivial reasons,” and in the emails he allegedly made demeaning, undermining comments that conveyed he had a “lack of trust in her ability to perform the duties of her role.”
Uniqlo denies the majority of Bell’s accusations and said that she “was not promoted due to her performance” and that Sasaki “actively assisted” her in building relationships with global headquarters. The company also said that Bell requested the title change herself.
The defense continued to note that she “never sought the required approval from Mr Tsuji” before taking it and that it was never officially changed in the system. It also denied the bullying allegation, calling it “unnecessary and scandalous.”
As for the emails Tsuji sent to Bell, a spokeswoman said that “English is not Mr Tsuji’s first language” and that the “comments in the email were direct and polite when read in context.”
“We can confirm that Uniqlo’s former payroll and information systems manager Melanie Bell left the company on March 26, 2018. Ms Bell resigned from her position,” the spokeswoman added. “Whilst Uniqlo respects Ms Bell’s right to pursue claims through the legal system, the company denies the allegations made by her.”