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Lego executive sues company for discrimination on family commitments - Australian Financial Review

By Alan J. McDonald

Australian Financial Review

A top executive at Lego Australia is suing the toy company for more than $400,000 because it allegedly fired him when he returned from an overseas transfer to care for his family.

Lego Australia director of operations Robert Csano, who had been seconded to Japan since 2016, accused the family-owned company of discriminating against him over his “family responsibilities in that he had to return to care for his 16-year-old son”.

Mr Csano worked for Lego Group for 18 years and according to his LinkedIn profile helped turn around its Australian business, resulting in a 500 per cent increase in sales revenue.

But in July this year he was sacked with no redundancy pay or compensation, his unlawful dismissal application filed in the Federal Circuit Court last month said.

Mr Csano alleges Lego’s initial proposal to terminate him was in line with a redundancy as the company had more senior staff than it needed.

But after April 18, when he inquired about how much redundancy pay he would get, Lego allegedly stopped characterising his termination that way.

Mr Csano claims Lego took adverse action against him in part because he made inquiries about his workplace rights and due to his family responsibilities.

Leave ‘abandoned’

Despite working as head of operations at Lego Japan for the past two years, Mr Csano was still employed in Australia under an “international assignment agreement”.

Assignment agreements, common for multinational companies, can suspend the employee’s accrual of leave and other entitlements while they are overseas.

But Mr Csano says his assignment agreement granted him annual leave and was “a safety net contractual entitlement”.

He says it was only in June, after his dismissal was in train, that Lego required him to sign a deed of release abandoning his leave entitlements.

He claims the company breached his assignment agreement by not returning him to his substantive position in Australia or finding him an alternative position.

The executive also claims Lego should have given him 12 months’ notice as an implied term in his contract given his senior position, his lengthy service and the size of his remuneration.

The lengthy notice period was necessary, he argues, given he had to sign a worldwide non-compete agreement that restricted him from applying his industry expertise for 12 months.

Mr Csano, represented by Sydney workplace lawyer Brooke Pendlebury, is seeking $428,838 in compensation, including 18 months’ redundancy at $257,303 plus 12 months’ notice pay of $171,535.

He also wants unquantified compensation for humiliation, pain and suffering, professional reputation damage and stress and anxiety.

Family workplace claims ‘common’ for men

Holding Redlich workplace law partner Charles Power said Mr Csano’s claim to redundancy may fail if he had returned early from his overseas secondment.

“If he came back early and there’s no job for him, because someone else has taken the job as the job’s still required, it would be difficult from a tax perspective to justify that as a redundancy – it would be a straight termination,” he said.

McDonald Murholme managing director Alan McDonald said the case showed how more and more senior male employees were making workplace claims about their family commitments.

“Getting children to and from school is a big reason,” he said. “Someone’s got to take care of these matters and it’s as much likely to fall on the man as the woman these days.”

Mr Csano’s case is set to appear before a judge in November. Lego, which is represented by law firm Baker McKenzie, was unavailable for comment.

Reference: ‘Lego executive sues company for discrimination on family commitments ‘, AFR, Monday 1st October.