Seven West Media is hiring an independent expert to investigate allegations surrounding an affair its CEO Tim Worner had with a junior staff member.
Amber Harrison, a former employee at Seven West-owned Pacific Magazines, has made a complaint to the Human Rights Commission about how she was treated after the affair with Worner.
However, the board of directors has supported Worner since information about what it called an “inappropriate consensual sexual relationship” surfaced two years ago.
Seven West is alleging credit card misuse by Harrison. The company has rejected allegations from Harrison that the investigation into her credit card use was vindictive.
However, Harrison alleges Worner was travelling on company expenses when he came to her home for sex. She says the company also paid for flights and accommodation when Worner asked her to the Australian Open tennis in Melbourne.
She also alleges the two used cocaine during sex when they attended offsite work functions.
Harrison was to have been paid $350,000 in installments by Seven as part of a confidential, and mutual no blame, settlement.
However, Seven says it is entitled to withhold payment for non compliance with the settlement deed. “The payment, agreed to be made to the former employee in installments, took into account her solicitors’ strong assertions regarding her needs and fragile emotional stability and were designed to enable her to move on with her life,” Seven West says.
Worner says the relationship finished some years ago.
“I apologised at the time, and am still trying to make amends,” he said in a statement.
“I am obviously filled with the deepest regret and shame. My focus is to continue to work through this in private and minimise the distress to my family. They are the most important people in the world to me and I will continue to fight to repair the damage I’ve caused.”
The board of Seven West Media has met four times this week to consider the issues. The board says Seven West Media takes allegations in relation to its CEO very seriously.
“To allay any concerns that our shareholders may have the board has determined it prudent to commission a further independent inquiry to establish all of the facts so as to confirm that all necessary matters have been and were taken into account,” the company said in a statement.
“The board will work quickly to appoint an appropriate independent expert to undertake the inquiry and to report back to the board as soon as they deem it practical.”
Harrison was aged 35 and Worner 51 when they started an affair in 2012. She was executive assistant to the then head of Pacific Magazines Nick Chan, now CEO of the Bauer Media Group.
Respected commentator Tony Boyd at The Australian Financial Review wrote a damning column today on the saga, saying Seven West had adopted a no-holds-barred legal attack on someone who could not afford to defend herself.
“It is wasting shareholders’ funds on lawyers and accountants with the purpose of causing maximum damage to a person the company knows has suffered sufficient mental stress to spend time off work,” Boyd writes today.
Boyd likens the behaviour by Seven West to that of the big four banks which got them in deep trouble several years ago.