Council facing $3.9 million lawsuit from ex-CEO
FRASER Coast Regional Council and its 11 councillors could be liable for up to $3.9 million in damages as a result of a lawsuit launched by former CEO Lisa Desmond.
Ms Desmond launched legal action in Brisbane Supreme Court late last month, claiming councillors falsely painted her as a "bully" who lodged "baseless complaints" against those who opposed her; that she misled councillors; and that she built a "culture of favouritism" in a toxic work environment rife in "fear of reprisal and low morale".
She believes her "good character and reputation" were damaged because the councillors opened her to "ridicule and contempt".
Ms Desmond alleges the council, the mayor Chris Loft - who faces suspension this week over repeated cases of misconduct - and the 10 other councillors published 21 defamatory allegations about her professionalism between November 30, 2016 and January 30, 2017.
The claims relate to comments published in the Fraser Coast Chronicle, across multiple television networks, the ABC and in council documents.
Seven of the Fraser Coast's 11 councillors voted to sack Ms Desmond earlier this year.
According to documents lodged in the supreme court she is suing the council itself, Councillors Loft, Rolf Light, Darren Everard, Denis Chapman, James Hansen, Anne Maddern, George Seymour, Stuart Taylor, David Lewis, Paul Truscott and Daniel Sanderson.
A Fraser Coast council spokesman said council would not make any comment while the matter was before the court.
Ms Desmond said the councillors falsely suggested she engaged in misconduct as a CEO; she failed to perform her responsibilities and functions and had a poor working relationship with staff, councillors and council management.
She argued suggestions she was dishonest, misleading, lacked credibility, was untrustworthy and "without reputation" were without merit. In her affidavit, she said there also were incorrect allegations the State Government and the Crime and Corruption Commission were investigating her.
She is seeking $2,737,841 that she says represents the loss of earnings had her contract been renewed for a further four years followed by a further three-year renewal "in accordance with the terms of the contract."
Ms Desmond is also seeking $204,000 in lost pay, $500,000 in future earnings because she says she will struggle to find a similar job and $389,500 for "hurt and embarrassment".
She also wants the council to reimburse the $30,000 in tax she paid on her termination payout that remains secret. The councillors also falsely said Ms Desmond was biased, showed a conflict of interest when producing council reports and manipulated information in those reports, she said in her affidavit.
Ms Desmond said her professional standing was "damaged" in the eyes of prospective employers.
The Crime and Corruption Commission has charged Cr Loft with misconduct and Local Government Minister Mark Furner will remove him from the council unless he can prove there are "reasonable grounds" for him to stay in the job.
Correction: An error had been made in Saturday's Chronicle in the naming of all councillors involved in the lawsuit. The lawsuit includes all 11 of the Fraser Coast Regional Council's councillors. The original article also miscalculated the amount of damages Ms Desmond is seeking.