Persecuted at work because he's gay

PHOTO: Persecuted at work because he's gay

SINGAPORE - In what is believed to be a first here, a local man has sued his former company, claiming he was harassed into leaving his job because he is gay.

In papers filed in the High Court in December, Mr Lawrence Bernard Wee Kim San, who turns 40 this year, is claiming "constructive dismissal" against Robinsons.

He says his former boss at the departmental store, Mr Jim McCallum, had harassed him because he did not agree with Mr Wee's homosexuality.

He worked for Robinsons for six years before leaving last August.

In its defence, the store denies Mr Wee's claims of "biasness", "unfair treatment" or "persecution" by anyone at Robinsons, or that he faced "difficulties" or "threats" when he wanted to leave the company.

It said Mr Wee had made the decision to leave last June "to pursue other interest, outside of Robinsons effective 2013" (sic).

It also said that Mr McCallum, whom Mr Wee has accused of treating him unfairly, was the one who had approved his promotions and salary increments.

In his affidavit, Mr Wee claimed he resigned from Robinsons last August "not as a matter of choice", but due to "unrelenting and unceasing persecution" by Mr McCallum, who is the Asia head of the store's Middle-Eastern owner, the Al-Futtaim Group.

Mr Wee claimed that in April or May last year, his direct supervisor, Mr Shia Yew Peck, was told by Mr McCallum that "anything from Lawrence cannot be right to begin with as Lawrence is wrong already as a person".

A few months earlier, Mr Shia, who has known since 2006 that Mr Wee is gay, had allegedly asked him whether he had ever considered turning "straight".

The supervisor later explained that Mr Wee would then be deemed more "normal" and "accepting" to others, especially his bosses, he added.

Last June, Mr Wee started talking about leaving the store and he claimed he had a discussion with Mr Shia.

In that discussion, Mr Shia shared how it was unfortunate that Mr Wee's career at the store would be prematurely terminated primarily due to Mr McCallum's personal bias against him because of his sexual orientation,Mr Wee said in his affidavit.

Pay rise, bonuses

Mr Wee joined Robinsons in 2006 as a senior manager of its cards department. In his six years there, he received raises and bonuses.

By the time he left in August last year, his salary had more than doubled from $7,200 in September 2006 to more than $16,000.

As part of the store's cards department, Mr Wee claimed that he was key in increasing the store's corporate sales from $20 million in revenue a year to over $32 million a year due to "key strategic accounts" that he had brought on board.

Mr Wee also said that at a management town hall meeting in July 2010, the then chief executive officer of Al-Futtaim Group, Mr Robert Willett, had praised him for "being a leader with business acumen and guts" after hearing him speak.

Mr Wee claimed Mr Shia later told him that Mr McCallum had said he (referring to Mr Wee) should "learn to keep his mouth shut".

Mr Wee claimed that his professional life suffered after he began working directly with Mr McCallum in 2011.

On several occasions, he claimed he was put down by Mr McCallum in front of other colleagues during meetings.

He also had his work disparaged, Mr Wee said.

Last April, Mr McCallum asked Mr Wee whether he had orchestrated a compliment he had received from a customer, specifically asking if "the card member was (Mr Wee's) auntie".

Mr Wee claimed he was told on several occasions by Mr Shia that he might not have a future at the store because of Mr McCallum's perception of him.

On a business trip to London in July 2011, Mr Shia told him that Mr McCallum "still had a strong dislike" for him despite his good work, Mr Wee said.

Almost a year later, in June 2012, after what he claimed to be persistent harassment from Mr McCallum,Mr Wee tendered his resignation.

The harassment, he claimed, did not end there.

After discussing his resignation with Mr Shia that month, Mr Wee said that it was agreed (verbally and via e-mail) that he would work until December - more than the contractually agreed two months' notice - to allow Robinsons ample time to find a suitable replacement.

Mr Wee claimed that Mr Shia later told him that Mr McCallum wanted him to leave early as he did not want him to be introduced to Robinsons' new managing director.

In August, Mr Shia told him the store would pay him three months' salary if he were to leave that month.

A day later, Mr Wee met the store's general manager of human resources, Ms Chee Nian Tze, to inform her that he wanted to stay on until December as originally agreed, and that he should be paid accordingly even if he were to leave before then.

Robinsons then agreed to pay Mr Wee a total of four months' salary when he left last August.

Robinsons: None of his claims is true

Robinsons denies Mr Wee's claims that he was unfairly harassed by his boss, Mr Jim McCallum.

The company also expressed dissatisfaction with Mr Wee's failure to provide written or verbal proof of his claims of what Mr McCallum had said to him or to his supervisor, Mr Shia Yew Peck.

It denies that any of Mr Wee's claims are true, including his claim that Mr McCallum had told Mr Shia that Mr Wee" is wrong already as a person".

In defence papers filed in the High Court, Robinsons said Mr Wee had tendered his resignation twice in his six years with the store, to pursue other career opportunities.

On both occasions,he later withdrew the resignation notice.

It also said that Mr Wee's salary increments, promotions, and company bonuses between 2010 and 2012 had been approved by Mr McCallum.

Robinsons also denied Mr Wee's claim of having "increased the corporate sales" for Robinsons from $20 million to over $32 million a year.

Instead, it described Mr Wee as being a member of the Robinsons team which "reported to and executed the decisions made by senior management".

As for his claims that he was made to quit his job, Robinsons said: "There was no actual or constructive dismissal of (Mr Wee). Rather it was (Mr Wee) who resigned from (Robinsons)on 24 August 2012."

Robinsons denies that Mr Wee faced "difficulties" or "threats" in leaving the company.

It also denies that Mr Wee had "performed well" in his role at the store, and had received increments and bonuses as "an acknowledgement of (his) excellent service".

It said that before he resigned,Mr Wee and Mr Shia discussed the former's "handling of (Robinsons') relationship with one of its key business partners and on other matters related to his unsatisfactory work performance".

In his affidavit,Mr Wee had claimed that he was harassed to leave earlier than the six-months' notice he had agreed on with Mr Shia.

Not true, Robinsons said in its defence.

It pointed to Mr Wee's employment contract and his conversation with its human resource general manager, Ms Chee Nian Tze.

The contract stated that "written notice of termination from either party will be two calendar months or two calendar months' salary in lieu of such notice".

Ms Chee had explained to Mr Wee that the offer of two months' salary in lieu of serving notice, and an additional one month's salary was"generous".