A lawyer who was sacked by AMP after raising the alarm about the company’s “fee for no service” scandal has spoken out against the company’s efforts to silence women who blow the whistle on misconduct.
As AMP grapples with the fallout of the Boe Pahari scandal, as well as shocking new accusations that emerged on Tuesday night, the former top in-house lawyer says the company has a pattern of behaviour that has left female employees victims of a toxic culture.
Larissa Baker Cook is suing AMP over unfair dismissal, claiming she was sacked after alerting the company to the fact that it had deliberately charged customers for no service, a scandal that later blew up at the Hayne royal commission.
In court documents she alleges she was subject to bullying and harassment in the lead up to her termination last year. She says the behaviour first arose after she discovered that AMP’s fees for no services may have been deliberate rather than inadvertent as it had told the regulator. It then intensified, she alleges, during the royal commission, when she made fresh complaints that were dismissed by senior staff.
Since filing a statement of claim in October, Baker Cook has been reluctant to speak out against the company publicly. But in the wake of a series of sexual harassment claims involving female whistleblowers, she tells Crikey she believes there was a pattern of behaviour at the company of silencing women who came forward with complaints.
“All of the women like me who have tried to avail ourselves of AMP’s policies to address bullying and harassment have been forced to engage lawyers or MPs to enforce our rights and protect our reputations,” she said.
“But for every one of us there are likely to be many more who have not had the resources or the resilience to do so.”
Baker Cook is seeking $2.5 million in past and future economic losses from AMP. The company rejects her claims and says she was sacked for committing “serious misconduct” by downloading “legally privileged and sensitive” AMP documents to her personal email address. It also alleges she bad-mouthed the board and had performance issues, despite having received two bonuses and a pay rise.
In a response to her comments, AMP said: “The court proceedings involving Ms Baker Cook relate to a breach of employment obligations and professional duties … AMP will continue to defend the matter and be respectful of the legal process.”
A court case is scheduled for November.
Baker Cook’s comments come in the wake of fresh allegations raised in federal Parliament that AMP silenced a whistleblower after she reported “consistent and systemic” predatory sexual behaviour by more than one male employee.
The allegations were made under parliamentary privilege by Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill in a speech late on Tuesday evening.
O’Neill read out a statement by the unnamed female former junior employee, detailing her experience of harassment, which included receiving explicit photos, groping and physical harassment.
The woman said she made official complaints to the company against the two male employees, but one was given a warning and the other was promoted.
After speaking out, the woman says she was “bullied, victimised and ultimately silenced”, with the company threatening to terminate her if she didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement.
“I was treated like a criminal,” her testimony said.
An AMP spokesperson said the company took “any complaint or issue raised seriously”.
The claims come as AMP faces a reckoning over its corporate culture in the wake of allegations made by former employee Julia Szlakowski against Pahari.
On Monday the scandal saw the resignation of chairman David Murray and board member John Fraser.
Pahari remains employed but was demoted to a previous role.
AMP director Debra Hazelton will take over from Murray as chair. But insiders say her appointment is problematic given she was on the board when it voted in favour of Pahari’s promotion to the head of AMP Capital –despite having penalised him $500,000 over Szlakowski’s complaint.
Baker Cook said the latest sexual harassment claims, along with those made in the Pahari case, showed how the company was willing to protect its biggest earners at whatever cost.
“This is not just an issue of sexual harassment, it affects men and women who call out the poor behaviour of those who are empowered because they make money for AMP,” she said.
“This is not something which can be rectified by AMP focusing on employees leaking to the press or bringing in consultants to write a report. It requires a board which has the good judgement to make the right decisions proactively not reactively.”
Monash University adjunct associate professor Hannah Piterman said the claims reflected a “whatever it takes” culture.
“These companies are not taking action and the fact that they can call it a low level code of conduct breach suggests they have massaged this. It’s an act of denial.”