'Selectively misrepresented': Law firm accuses Super Retail Group of victimising whistleblowers

'Selectively misrepresented': Law firm accuses Super Retail Group of victimising whistleblowers

Photo: BCF Cannington, via Facebook.

Last week the leadership of Super Retail Group (ASX: SUL, 'SRG') sought to get ahead of the negative publicity that comes with lawsuits by denying the validity of anticipated claims from two employees - including allegations of the non-disclosure of a relationship between senior executives, bullying, and inappropriate travel - but today the law firm involved has hit back.

In a statement released today, Harmers Workplace Lawyers has revealed it is in fact representing four clients who are whistleblowers against the retailer, having been approached by "a number" of current employees who have raised concerns about crucial governance issues at the company, which operates the Supercheap Auto, Rebel, BCF and Macpac brands.

The law firm adds that since Friday's announcement it has been approached by a "further number of current and ex employees with similar concerns".

"We are confident that other current and former SRG staff will support our clients’ claims," Harmers said.

"A third party, not associated with SRG, has now also come forward to us with key evidence about the previously undisclosed personal relationship between SRG’s CEO Anthony Heraghty, and his former direct report and SRG’s former CHRO, Jane Kelly."

Business News Australia has approached the company and Kelly for comment in response.

The law firm claims two clients it assumes Friday's announcement was aimed at have each made protected disclosures within the meaning of the Corporations Act, within recent months, to the non-conflicted members of the Super Retail board, and in one case to the company's external auditor at the time, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"Friday’s ASX announcement, and subsequent media coverage initiated by SRG, amounts to victimisation of these whistleblowers, and is causing them additional damage," Harmers said.

"One of our clients has supplied SRG with a draft of a proposed statement of claim. That document raises a range of serious governance and conduct issues within SRG. The document has been selectively misrepresented in Friday’s ASX announcement by SRG.

"Only one aspect of the governance issues raised in the draft statement of claim relates to the personal relationship referred to within SRG’s announcement. However, SRG seems exclusively focused on this issue."

Harmers purports that as recently as this month Super Retail "denied the existence of any such relationship of any kind".

"When Harmers pointed out that it had clear proof of an intimate relationship, and thus a significant unreported conflict of interest, SRG’s position immediately shifted," the law firm said.

"As of last Friday, SRG revealed to certain of its staff that a relationship does now exist between Mr Heraghty and Ms Kelly – but SRG now alleges only from January 2024. However, even from that date, such a relationship carried significant conflicts of interest.

"One of our clients made a whistleblower complaint in November 2023, via the internal whistleblower platform Whispli, concerning the longer-term existence of the relationship and its impact on governance issues – but that complaint was removed from the integrity officer and the head of risk and given to HR management answering directly to Ms Kelly."

The law firm claims the whistleblower who has served the draft statement of claim has provided a medical report and detailed calculations, relating to loss of potential income, justifying the quantum of the claim.

"Also, our clients offered to confidentially settle this matter for sums less than one third of the dollar amounts in the SRG announcement," the company said.

"SRG is well aware that this is not a 'shakedown', but a justifiable legal claim for damages, being deliberately misrepresented.

"Friday’s announcement had a material impact on SRG’s share price throughout the day. SRG has been well aware for over a week of the information it released last Friday, yet it waited."

The law firm claims that Super Retail did not reveal that the litigation will extend to Heraghty personally as CEO.

"That information appears to have been separately provided to the media and not the ASX, and appears only in more recent articles," Harmers said.

"That does not coincide with our understanding of continuous disclosure obligations under the ASX listing rules and the Corporations Act.

"The deliberate misrepresentations by SRG, and an internal campaign of suppression via fear, is threatening the safety of the whistleblowers concerned and a number of SRG staff.

"For this reason, two of the whistleblowers have today given notice to the company of the need for emergency disclosure under the Corporations Act in the interests of their safety. This is designed to offer a higher level of protection to these whistleblowers now that the matter is public."

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