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Inside former PwC partner’s defamation allegations

Within documents ahead of the first court appearance this month, a former PwC partner caught up in the 2023 tax scandal said his “excellent reputation” took a hit when his former employers distributed allegedly defamatory media releases.

user iconNaomi Neilson 02 July 2024 Corporate Counsel
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When reporters became aware PwC personnel were using and sharing confidential tax plans, the professional services company released two media releases to apologise for the breach and confirm it had “exited” eight partners alleged to have been involved.

In court documents filed ahead of the first case management hearing in the Federal Court this month, one of those partners, Richard Gregg, alleged the media releases were “likely to be destructive of [his] personal and professional reputation” and he was shunned by its readers.

With assistance from defamation lawyer Rebekah Giles, Gregg is seeking aggravated damages and economic loss.

 
 

It comes after the NSW Supreme Court last year found PwC did not comply with requirements under the partnership agreement when it made a recommendation that Gregg should retire.

Late on 28 May 2023, Gregg said he was directed to go on leave by a PwC partner but was not told why, how long he would be expected to remain on leave, or what powers PwC had to order him to do so.

The next day, the first of the two allegedly defamatory media releases was published, stating that nine partners were told to go on leave effective immediately because “they were involved in the tax scandal or reasonably suspected to be involved”.

Despite not being named, Gregg alleged he was identified because, prior to its publication, he was regularly attending the office and performing his usual duties. He said this stopped after the release.

“Any imputations to the effect that Gregg shared confidential government information or was otherwise involved in the tax scandal would, in the context within which the May media release was published, be likely to be destructive of Gregg’s personal and professional relationship,” the statement of claim set out.

On 1 June and again on 28 June 2023, Gregg’s lawyers sent an email to PwC about his leave, the internal review, and with a request that his name not be published without first giving him notice.

Giles emailed PwC on 2 July after a brief telephone call, but instead of responding to this, Gregg said he received a letter from PwC the next day that informed him that management made a recommendation to the board that he should be required to retire from the partnership.

Gregg alleged he was “not contacted at all, let alone interviewed” by PwC’s investigators “and there was no attempt to obtain a response or any statement from him” prior to the letter being sent.

The same day, the second allegedly defamatory media release was distributed, which informed the media that eight partners had been “exited or are in the process of being removed from the partnership”.

Gregg was named in this media release.

In the statement of claim, Gregg said that despite the alleged harm from the May media release, he “maintained a favourable reputation in his chosen profession” but was allegedly shunned and avoided after the June media release “due to the notoriety of the tax scandal”.

In addition to defamation, Gregg alleged PwC breached its contract by directing him to go on leave without explanation; giving him no warning or opportunity to prepare for the media releases; and prohibiting him from communicating with partners, clients or staff.

Gregg also alleged that PwC owed him “fiduciary duties” to not advantage some partners’ interests over his own.