Former Seven West Media executive assistant Amber Harrison, whose affair with the media company’s CEO Tim Worner turned into a bitter public dispute, has been ordered to pay Seven’s legal costs by NSW Supreme Court judge John Sackar.
The decision ends a three-year saga of titillating allegations involving one of the country’s most powerful media organisations and boardroom sexual politics.
“These proceedings have, from the outset, been engulfed in a vitriolic atmosphere. The allegations from both sides, whether entirely true or not, have often been personal, scandalous, and sadly ripe for media and public consumption,” justice Sackar said in today’s judgment.
Harrison was taken to court by the network earlier this year for breaching a confidentiality agreement as part of a financial settlement in the wake of the affair with her married boss. She attempted to cross-claim against the network and after she refused a settlement with Seven offering to pay some of her legal costs, the company applied for the former staffer to pay all its legal expenses.
In his ruling, Justice Sackar said Harrison’s conduct was “unreasonable” during the case, costing Seven “unnecessary and significant legal costs”.
“The Defendant decided to contest a claim and run a cross-claim mounted on allegations she could not substantiate, and continued to run this case in the face of adverse interlocutory findings, settlement offers, and a complete absence of evidence,” Sackar said.
Seven’s costs could be more than $1 million and Harrison said last week that she would be “driven into bankruptcy” if costs were awarded against her.
Today, justice Sackar said: “In my view, the Defendant’s decision to persist in running a case without any admissible evidence to rely upon reflects a real disregard for any adverse costs consequences that naturally follow from such conduct.”
Earlier this month, Harrison dropped her case against Seven West Media and consented to a gag order, which prevents her from speaking publicly about her affair with Worner, or releasing company documents.
The fight between Harrison and the media company began in July 2014, and the following month, the company agreed to pay her $100,000 and give her a new job, while she repaid $14,000 in personal expenses using the corporate credit card after a Deloitte report commissioned by Seven found that Harrison had “likely” charged about $180,000 worth of unauthorised personal expenses to those cards between 2009 and 2014.
But in November that year, Seven struck a new deal that saw her leave the company as part of a confidentiality agreement and settlement worth $350,000, but payments stopped just a few months later after Harrison refused to return a phone. In late 2016, having gone to the Australian Human Rights Commission with allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation the previous year, Harrison then went public and her affair with Worner, amid allegations of mistreatment by Seven, and claims of drug and expenses abuses.
Her use of Twitter to air her grievances led to an extraordinary exchange on the social media site involving former Victorian premier and Seven director Jeff Kennett and Harrison.
In February this year, Seven launched legal action to restrain Harrison from making any further comments about the company or her affair with Worner, who remains Seven’s CEO. Justice Sackar found that Harrison breached her gag order when she went public with the details.
“The evidence on any view is relevantly clear, unequivocal and largely uncontested. She had, and has engaged in numerous breaches of the Deed and Employment Contract, and these breaches have been persistent and flagrant,” he said.
“The allegations concerning the breaches are not, and have never been, challenged by admissible evidence in this Court, although they have been the subject of what has been referred to as a media campaign waged by the Defendant.”
Today’s judgment is here.
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