A former executive assistant at the Seven Network says the company used an external investigation into what the network claimed was credit card expenses to intimidate her, after she revealed to HR the existence of an 18-month affair with the company’s now CEO.
Amber Harrison, a former executive assistant to then-chief operating officer Nick Chan, says she was given $100,000 to buy her silence after an “inappropriate, consensual relationship” with CEO Tim Worner.
The bombshell revelations were distributed for maximum impact (and minimum injunctability). Multiple outlets, reporters and even independent media bloggers received the extensive statement, full of both a legal timeline and salacious details of the affair itself, just after 3pm yesterday. Fairfax and News Corp published stories within moments of each other late last night. Crikey understands Channel Seven has engaged the services of heavyweight defamation barrister Mark O’Brien, which might imply the network intends to go after Harrison or the news outlets that wrote about her. As Crikey neared deadline, Harrison had not yet heard from Channel Seven about her disclosure.
Attached to her email were documents that substantiate some of Harrison’s account, including copies of her deeds of settlement with the company. The final of two settlements, from November 14 2014, show she was offered an even greater sum than in the first settlement “by way of compensation for alleged injury, including loss of professional standing and reputation, pain and suffering, stress and humiliation, and dislocation of life”. This was signed on August 14, 2014. Worner is never explicitly named in either settlement, which refer to “a senior executive officer”.
In the statement, Harrison says the first investigation came as her relationship with Worner fractured in July 2014 (but before she herself revealed it to HR). She says shortly after, her credit card usage was queried, and she was offered two months’ salary to resign over the $14,000 expenditure. A few weeks later on July 30, Harrison says she met with a human resources representative at Sydney’s Darling Hotel, where she admitted to the affair, “hoping it would explain therapy and medical expenses charged to her credit card”. The next day, she says, she signed a deed of release offering her two months’ paid leave, $100,000 as a bonus and a new role in the company.
After taking her two months’ leave, Harrison says she was then told in October of 2014 there would be no job for her at Seven. Instead, she was shown a report alleging she engaged in broader corporate fraud worth $262,000. That report was conducted by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, who, according to a letter seen by Crikey, were engaged to investigate Harrison on the same day she signed her initial agreement with Seven. Unnamed Seven sources have told other outlets the investigation was a result of “random checks”. At this point, Harrison enlisted the services of Harmers Workplace Lawyers to help her fight the allegations.
On November 14 2014, Harrison was presented with a new deed — this time with a larger settlement, strict confidentiality clauses (which she appears to have broken), a redundancy, and a promise that Seven would pay her for every dollar of alleged fraud she could disprove, “by way of compensation”.
An extract from the November 14 signed deed showing the payments to Harrison (‘the employee’)
Harrison then claims that she engaged in a long process over several months to justify the spending attributed to her. She claims the process was difficult, but resulted in her being able to justify a majority of the spending. She said in her emailed statement to media:
“The entire process was a witch-hunt. Seven did not investigate in any depth as they just thought they’d throw this enormous figure at me and bury me with it. The only reason Seven and Deloitte did not find the same supporting evidence to disprove the allegations in the documents I later obtained easily by gaining access to my expense records (at the office of Deloitte) is because they didn’t want to run a balanced investigation. No employee should have to run their own investigation. And no other employee, out of 10,000, was subjected to the scrutiny that I was.”
Crikey has put these accusation to Channel Seven, which declined to comment on the record about any of them.
In June 2015, Harmers took Harrison’s case to the Human Rights Commission, where a mediation was attempted on a complaint alleging bullying, victimisation and sexual harassment. However, Harrison says, “I never felt this was a sexual harassment case. It was about abuse of power and also workplace safety.” Harrison sacked her legal team in May 2016 — representing her now is Sam Macedone, who attempted a final resolution.
Harrison says Harmers claims they are out of pocket $300,000 on her case, and estimates Seven’s legal costs at more than $1 million. From her end, her legal avenues are now exhausted.
Harrison said in her emailed statement to media:
“During the past four months of negotiation I have tried everything to secure a third contract to replace the two Seven were never going to honour because that was their plan. They wanted me frustrated by the legal process, unable to get to court, broken and penniless and they wanted to cover up the affair with Tim, and the cover-up of Tim. How does one individual fight this massive company with unlimited resources? There is little recourse available to individuals in our court system, particularly against Seven, who live to frustrate and litigate. They have continued to apply unreasonable, wide-reaching and ever-changing demands to the very end, and I have nothing left to fight them with now, except the truth … I have attempted for two years to resolve this quietly for the sake of everyone involved, a decision that has ruined me.”
Earlier this year, Amy Taeuber, a Channel Seven television reporter in Adelaide, filed a lawsuit saying she was dismissed after filing a complaint against a more senior journalist at the network. Harrison says Taeuber’s allegations have “weighed heavily on me”:
“Seven continue to bury women to further their principles of power and greed. Seven have left me no choice but to take a public stand.”
“Seven have backed me into a corner and I can’t get out of it but I refuse to be bullied and intimidated. I have been threatened with court proceedings in writing over twenty times and with jail three times. I will not allow the threat of being sued to take away my right to speak. Any money Seven have paid me from the two deeds has been spent fighting them. Seven should play out their war of law against me in public now.”