A former AMP lawyer is claiming over $2 million from the company for unfair dismissal after she raised concerns about fee-for-no-services practices with its former top executives.
Larissa Baker Cook was involved in AMP's legal preparation for the Royal Commission, its work for ASIC enforcement notices and handling advice complaints and insurance claims at different points in time.
In a claim filed with the Federal Court on Tuesday, she says she was bullied and harassed for reporting fee-for-no-service practices to top AMP executives. She also claims it affected her health and career progression.
AMP denies Cook's claims, a spokeswoman said.
|Sponsored by MetLife Insurance|
Do your clients understand how commissions work?
No pay rises
Cook started working as a senior lawyer at AMP's Sydney offices in June, 2016 as its head of litigation and dispute resolution for the company.
In the role, she was responsible for all litigation within the AMP Group, which at that time was primarily insurance claims and advice complaints. Her base gross salary was $320,000.
About a year into the job, Cook claims her responsibilities were increased and the size of the team that she supervised roughly tripled (from 10 to 30).
She was now had the responsible for ASIC enforcement notices as well, especially for the advice business.
But the company did not increase her pay.
Another two months into the job and Cook's workload was increased to include AMP's legal preparation to the upcoming Royal Commission, around September 12, 2017.
Her title was now general counsel, DRRE (dispute resolution and regulatory engagement).
But her remuneration still remained the same, Cook claims.
Her salary gross annual salary increased by $8,000 in March, 2017 the claim says.
Reporting fee for no services misconduct
Cook says that by November, 2016 she had become aware that AMP Group companies had charged fees to orphan customers in its BOLR pool fees without providing services to them.
She also claims that as of that date, she was aware that companies in the AMP Group misrepresented to ASIC that some instances of charging fees for no service were results of administrative errors, and had corrected some of them to attribute them to business practice.
About six months later, around May 2017, she became aware that fee-for-no-service may have been "deliberate rather than inadvertent", with senior management potentially ignoring legal advice and complaints from junior employees.
In the next week, Cook claims she reported the information to Brian Salter, Jack Regan, Craig Meller and Catherine Brenner over email and orally.
The claim says she is in possession of documents for the above. These may be legally privileged documents and she will supply them in a confidential communication following discovery.
Insofar she is aware, Brenner informed the AMP Limited Board of the disclosures while Meller, Salter and/or Regan would have informed the group executive of people and culture Fiona Wardlaw.
By making the fee for no service complaints, she was exercising her workplace right to make a complaint or inquiry, and was following the code of conduct, she says.
Company's reaction to Cook's complaints
Cook says that she had enjoyed "good working relationships" with her superiors before making the fees for no service complaints.
From about September, 2017 she was exposed to persistently and increasingly hostile, aggressive and intimidating behavior by certain colleagues and superiors within the group.
In particular, she names Brian Salter, Jack Regan, Charter Financial Planning managing director Neil Swindells, AMP Advice chief risk officer Pally Bargri.
Cook says the treatment from the above amounts to "harassment and bullying".
It affected her heath and general wellbeing, causing depression, stress and anxiety. It also hurt her professional standing and reputation, her work relationships and advancement opportunities.
AMP's reaction this morning
An AMP spokeswoman said it rejects the substance of the claims made by Cook and intends to vigorously defend the matter.
"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," she said in a statement.
"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 says it 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."
The matter is scheduled for a directions hearing on December 3, 2019.