A former general counsel of AMP has launched a claim against the financial services giant alleging “wrongful termination” and “hostile, aggressive and intimidating behaviour” – claims which AMP has refuted and is planning to defend.
Larissa Baker Cook, who held the position of general counsel of dispute resolution and regulatory engagement, last week filed an application in the NSW Registry of the Federal Court alleging dismissal in contravention of a general protection under the Fair Work Act.
In addition to AMP being named as a defendant, the application names group executive of people and corporate affairs Helen Livesey as a second defendant.
The matter is listed as Larissa Baker Cook v AMP Services Limited & Anor, with Swaab representing Ms Baker Cook.
Statement of claim
In her filed statement of claim – viewed by Lawyers Weekly – Ms Baker Cook said she was hired in June 2016 to be AMP’s head of litigation and dispute resolution, before eventually becoming the company’s GC of dispute resolution and regulatory engagement.
By November 2016, the statement read, she had become aware that AMP Group companies had “engaged in a practice of charging customers without financial advisers” and that said companies had misinterpreted to ASIC that such practices were the result of administrative errors, and by May 2017, she said she had become aware that persons in senior management may have “engaged in the fees-for-no-service business practice” despite internal legal advice, complaints from junior staff opposed to the practice and that such practices “may therefore have been deliberate rather than inadvertent”.
Ms Baker Cook’s statement of claim goes on to say that she made disclosures (both orally and by email) and then complaints to AMP Group senior managers and executives, but by September 2017, she was “exposed to persistently and increasingly hostile, aggressive and intimidating behaviour by certain of her colleagues and superiors within the AMP Group which amounted to harassment and bullying”.
She further alleged that – following her being made responsible in September 2017 for AMP’s legal preparation “for an anticipated royal commission into the financial services industry” – she made complaints or inquiries arising from her work on the royal commission from around January 2018 and was “subjected to further instances of hostile, aggressive and intimidating behaviour”.
Moreover, she alleged that “AMP Group senior managers repeatedly made statements that were dismissive” of her concerns.
Following this time, Ms Baker Cook’s statement of claim continued, she was “excluded from management meetings she had routinely attended prior” and that certain senior managers refused to receive her advice in relation to the royal commission.
Her “prejudicial treatment”, she submitted, arose because of her making the fees-for-no-service complaints and royal commission complaints.
By early 2019, Ms Baker Cook and AMP agreed – her statement claimed – to participate in a confidential mediation and that she would prepare a “comprehensive position paper” setting out her grievances and other concerns, which would include supporting documents.
AMP “did not object to the compilation of the supporting documents”, she claimed, and by providing the position paper, she said she was acting in good faith, in compliance with her work obligations and exercising her workplace right to make a complaint or inquiry.
The mediation was not successful, and in a letter in May 2019, AMP wrote to Ms Baker Cook, she asserted in her statement, indicating that many of the documents produced for the mediation were “legally privileged [and] alleging (incorrectly) that [AMP] had not authorised” [her] to use the documents in the manner in which she had”.
Investigation and termination
An external investigation followed, after which Ms Baker Cook was terminated by letter in June 2019, with AMP saying it was satisfied that she had “downloaded, saved/or sent AMP information to [her] personal email address” in circumstances where she was not authorised to do so and that she “sought to use the AMP information to obtain a financial settlement” for herself.
The company was further satisfied, it wrote, that she had breached her express contractual obligations, fiduciary duties, contractual and ethical duties of confidence, implied contractual obligations and statutory obligations.
“AMP is satisfied that it has no ongoing trust and confidence in your ability to discharge your duties in the best interests of AMP, particularly where, as a senior lawyer, you have legal and ethical obligations to protect the AMP Information and act in AMP’s best interests,” the letter read.
In her originating application, Ms Baker Cook has alleged that AMP took adverse action against her “by reason of her making workplace inquiries and/or complaints and thereby breached” the Fair Work Act, and that Ms Livesey “had accessorial liability”.
She is asking the Federal Court for compensation in the form of general damages, aggravated damages, pecuniary loss in the amount of $166,650 or alternatively past economic loss of $108,963 in salary and $13,043 in superannuation.
In addition, she is asking for compensation for future economic loss in the form of $2,452,824 in salary and $404,818 in super.
Statement from Ms Baker Cook
In comments provided to Lawyers Weekly, Ms Baker Cook said that her “wrongful termination by AMP earlier this year” left her without income for five months and that she was unable to obtain alternative employment “at a time when I face mounting legal costs”.
“The aggressive and intransigent approach taken by AMP has also taken a huge toll on me physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, I was left with no option but to commence proceedings against AMP to try to restore my reputation and obtain some compensation for the wrong they have done to me,” she said.
Response from AMP
Lawyers Weekly also talked to a spokesperson from AMP, who confirmed that the company has been served with a claim filed in the Federal Court by Ms Baker Cook and noted that the claims are refuted and will be defended.
“AMP rejects the substance of the claims made by Ms Baker Cook and intends to vigorously defend the matter,” the company’s statement read.
“In many instances in her statement of claim, Ms Baker Cook has presented a number of incorrect and unsupported opinions and allegations favourable to her and not provided the full context of those events.
“AMP terminated Ms Baker Cook’s employment for misconduct on 21 June 2019 following an external investigation. The investigation found serious breaches by Ms Baker Cook including breaches of her contractual, fiduciary and statutory duties as a senior employee and lawyer.
“AMP sought to resolve the matter prior to Ms Baker Cook filing her claim on a commercial basis. AMP does not tolerate bullying or misconduct and has mechanisms in place to identify and deal with unacceptable behaviour. When issues have been raised by employees, we have dealt with them appropriately.”