A former lawyer for Meriton Property Services is suing one of the country’s richest men, billionaire Harry Triguboff, and the company, alleging he was sacked because he refused to lie in an affidavit.
The company’s former group general counsel Joseph Callaghan is suing for $556,500 in compensation plus penalties, claiming he was fired from his $350,000-a-year job by the 87-year-old property developer earlier this year because he refused to exaggerate the time it took for the City of Sydney council to approve one of Meriton’s buildings.
In a statement of claim submitted to the Federal Circuit Court on Wednesday Mr Callaghan alleges Mr Triguboff asked him to do so during a meeting in February, also attended by Mr Triguboff’s daughter and two grandchildren, where in an affidavit it said that it took the City of Sydney council “three years to approve my building”. The affidavit had been filed by the company to the Land and Environment Court.
Mr Callaghan claims that when he responded, “Well, it doesn’t. Because, Harry, it didn’t. It took seven months, maybe nine”, Mr Triguboff replied: “F… you. I pay you win [sic] to win cases, do you understand? You are dealing with a dog up there [pointing to the City of Sydney’s Town Hall].”
When Mr Callaghan explained that he couldn’t give evidence to the court that he knew not to be true, he alleges Mr Triguboff said: “Listen my friend, you write it my way or you can f… off.”
According to the claim, Meriton’s head of planning, Walter Gordon, then joined the meeting to discuss how long it took for the building to be approved.
When Mr Callaghan once again refused to lie, he alleges Mr Triguboff said: “Then f… off. Who needs you?” before pointing to the door and turning his chair away.
As Mr Callaghan headed for the lift, he claims he was approached by Mr Triguboff’s grandson, who said words to the effect of “he doesn’t want you to go”, so he returned to the office where he claims Mr Triguboff then said “write it your way”.
Several days later Mr Callaghan attended another meeting with Mr Triguboff and 12 others, which he thought was about a different legal matter.
When he put legal documents on the desk in front of Mr Triguboff he claims the Meriton boss picked them up without reading them and threw them at him and said words to effect of: “Ah piss off with that. Listen, you’re a nice boy and I like you, I’ll even give you some money, but I don’t need you. So that’s it,” before pointing to the door.
A week later Mr Callaghan received a letter stating his employment had been terminated.
The lawyer, who had been in the role for about four years, claimed no other matters had been raised with him about his performance or conduct around that time, or at any time before that.
Mr Callaghan will argue Meriton breached several provisions in the Fair Work Act because he was terminated after he exercised his workplace right to make a complaint to his employer about not undertaking an act that was inconsistent with his professional obligations; he was not given written notice of his termination until after it took effect; and he was not paid in lieu of notice until a week after his effective termination.
Mr Callaghan is also suing Mr Triguboff, alleging he was “directly party to the contraventions”.
Meriton has not yet filed a defence to the court but a spokeswoman told The Australian Financial Review it “emphatically denies that Mr Callaghan was asked to lie in his affidavit. This is completely rejected and false.
“Meriton Property Services goes to great lengths to ensure all business activities are compliant with applicable laws. All allegations that suggest otherwise are strongly denied. Meriton disputes the sequence and nature of the events set out in the court filing,” the spokeswoman said.
“Because the matter of Callaghan, Joseph v Meriton Property Services and Anor is currently before the court, any further comment at this time is inappropriate whilst the proceedings remain current, but Meriton will be filing its defence in due course.”
The first court date has been set for June 17, with the parties to appear before Judge Nicholas Manousaridis.
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