PGC executive awarded $155,000 after sacking

ASHLEIGH STEWART
Last updated 12:13 25/07/2013

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A former Pyne Gould Corporation executive has been awarded more than $155,000 after he was sacked for bonuses he paid to himself and other executives.

James West was employed by PGC as head of operations and financial controller at former subsidiary Perpetual in June 2011.

He was the only Christchurch-based executive.

West had a salary of $225,000 a year and was under an agreement to receive incentive-based bonuses.

For the year ending June 2011, it was decided West and three other company officials would receive a $140,000 bonus, and the matter was discussed at a board meeting in 2011 and authorised by PGC managing director John Duncan.

However, PGC says the meeting never took place, and it intended to hold West's bonus in trust until June 2012 on the understanding he would stay in his role until then.

After a successful takeover bid of the corporation in 2012, Duncan instructed West to arrange the payment of the bonuses.

West did so, putting the payment through payroll himself under Duncan's authority on March 30.

Later that day, West received requests to make further payments from PGC's new director, George Kerr, but because of the bonuses being paid, there were insufficient funds in the account.

Over the following weekend, West was spoken to by PGC chairman Bryan Mogridge and Kerr, and was told the issue was being treated as a "serious matter of concern".

He was asked to take leave on Monday, during which his system access was revoked and his team was restructured.

His team's reporting line was permanently changed to other Auckland-based executives, and the PGC's financial reporting was outsourced to Deloitte.

West's responsibilities were subsequently given to staff members in Auckland, and his Christchurch responsibilities were assigned to a contractor, effective immediately.

He was instructed to return the bonus payment, and was told that if he did not it would be considered as misappropriation.

West repaid the bonus on April 3, but remained on leave.

On April 16, he was asked to hand back his company keys and swipe card and was summarily dismissed.

At an Employment Relations Authority hearing in Christchurch, West argued that he was unjustifiably disadvantaged in his employment and sought his outstanding bonus payment of $140,000.

Authority member Paul Stapp ruled in favour of West, saying PGC failed to investigate the issue before West was dismissed, and he was not given the opportunity to respond to concerns and was not consulted about plans to remove him from the company.

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Stapp called these "serious defects" and said it was "more likely than not that Mr Kerr formed an adverse view about Mr West and set out not to pay him".

PGC was ordered to pay West $120,833 in lost wages, $2743 in interest, $22,066 in holiday pay and $10,000 compensation for hurt and humiliation.

Mogridge said it was a ''sad situation'' that could have been resolved between the parties.

"PGC considers that the payment to Mr West was never authorised by the PGC board, as it was required to be, and he then processed the payment despite the lack of proper authorisation."

He said PGC was now seeking costs which are ''in the same order'' as the amount West was awarded.

"Following the ruling that Mr West was not entitled to the bonus, coupled with the fact that the payments PGC has been ordered to pay are less than what was offered to Mr West as compensation, we believe we have strong grounds for seeking costs. This case could have been resolved between the two parties."

- The Press

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