The female executive who placed a sexual harassment claim against AMP Capital chief Boe Pahari has revealed her identity and charged the wealth giant with downplaying what happened to her.
Julia Szlakowski, former AMP Capital institutional director, unlisted, Americas has come forward as the employee behind the recently resurfaced sexual harassment complaint against Mr Pahari.
The California based ex-staffer has engaged legal counsel in both the US and Australia to allegedly correct AMP’s recent public statements on Mr Pahari’s misconduct.
A spokesperson for the group said the claim related to comments from the executive that were “lower level breaches” of its code of conduct.
But Ms Szlakowski has fired back, saying the sexual harassment had been serious, persistent and wide-ranging.
According to her allegations, Mr Pahari offered Ms Szlakowski his personal credit card to buy clothes, asked her to communicate with him via encrypted messaging app WhatsApp while at a private club and quizzed her on the age of the oldest man she had dated – among other incidents.
At the time, she was in charge of North American distribution for AMP Capital’s infrastructure debt and equity strategies, reporting to Mr Pahari, who then held the role of global head and managing partner, infrastructure equity for the north-west region.
Ms Szlakowski was reportedly the investment group’s first US hire for the unlisted business, as well as the only woman on the North American distribution team.
Six months into her new position however, she lodged a seven-page complaint with AMP, detailing a pattern of sexual harassment that began when she started with the group in December 2016, to May 2017. She has now welcomed its release, alongside the resulting findings document from an investigation initiated by AMP.
“I was not planning to comment regarding this matter because I value my privacy and have moved on with my life,” Ms Szlakowski said.
“However, after reading the various statements about these matters from AMP, I feel compelled to defend my reputation by setting the record straight.
“In making the complicated decision to speak out, I found courage in the words of one of my heroes: silence is a pandemic and the most powerful weapon of your harasser.”
In June 2017, she submitted to an investigation initiated by AMP. According to Ms Szlakowski and her Australian legal representation at Maurice Blackburn, AMP shared a portion of the investigator’s findings with her – which had confirmed all of nine allegations had occurred.
AMP was said to accept the findings – deeming four of the allegations as breaches of its workplace behaviour and equal opportunity policy. One breach was allegedly labelled “harassment (minor)”, one was labelled “harassment (moderate)" and the remaining two were supposedly marked as “harassment” without a qualifier.
But according to Ms Szlakowski’s lawyer, Maurice Blackburn principal Josh Bornstein, the investigation document findings did not use the words “sexual harassment” and treated each interaction as a discrete matter, rather than considering each incident as parts within an entire course of conduct.
Mr Bornstein said by isolating and decontextualising different aspects of the alleged misconduct, the findings document does not reflect the severity of the case.
“I am puzzled about the treatment of a serious case of sexual harassment in this manner,” he commented.
One example he gave was the findings document confirmed that Mr Pahari had asked personal questions about men Ms Szlakowski had dated – where it ruled “not harassment. The questions were not offensive, humiliating and intimidating”.
“By isolating parts of a detailed complaint in this way, it can be robbed of its significance,” Mr Bornstein said.
“Mr Pahari asked Ms Szlakowski to tell him the age of the oldest man she had dated in circumstances, which included: a) he was much older than her, b) he was her boss, c) his conduct was unwanted sexual behaviour and d) it was part of a series of events of unwanted sexual behaviour.”
Similarly, the findings document was said to confirm Mr Pahari offered his personal credit card and asked Ms Szlakowski to text him via WhatsApp while at a private club late at night, but it concluded the acts were not harassment.
“The findings document provided to Ms Szlakowski doesn’t explain why Mr Pahari directed Ms Szlakowski to communicate with him in a manner designed to ensure that no one in AMP could trace the communications,” Mr Bornstein said.
'My success at AMP was inextricably tied to my harasser’s support and mentorship'
The group charged Mr Pahari a financial penalty for the misconduct, but has not confirmed the amount to Investor Daily.
Ms Szlakowki resigned after she was told by a colleague he had been exonerated by the investigation, in March 2018.
“It was impressed upon me that my success at AMP was inextricably tied to my harasser’s support and mentorship. That ultimately proved to be true,” she said.
“Now AMP has two choices: it can continue to downplay a credible sexual harassment complaint, which impugns all survivors, or take action to bring about lasting and meaningful change. If anyone has any doubt about the seriousness of what happened, I would welcome the company releasing the full text of my complaint and the findings of the investigation.”
Further she said she had never received an apology from Mr Pahari – contrary to the company’s statement in July.
In Australia, Ms Szlakowski is being represented by Mr Bornstein, who is also legal counsel for former associates with sexual harassment claims against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon.
In the US, the former AMP employee is being represented by Martin Hyman and Matthew Daly of Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe – the same lawyers who represented former news anchor Gretchen Carlson in her sexual harassment suit against Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.
Mr Bornstein said AMP’s public statements about the seriousness of the harassment had misled staff, the public and shareholders about the serious nature of the misconduct.
“When I saw media reports about this matter, in which the company referred to ‘lower level breaches of the company’s code of conduct’ I had assumed that perhaps Mr Pahari had told crude sexualised jokes or engaged in something of that nature,” he said.
“Now having reviewed the detailed allegations, it is clear that the company’s public statements are deceptive and misleading because they trivialise what happened to Julia.”
He added the group’s decision to promote Mr Pahari had been explained by a senior AMP Capital board member, John Fraser, because he “made a lot of money for the company”.
An AMP spokesperson said prior to Mr Pahari’s appointment, the group’s board and chief Francesco De Ferrari had reviewed the matter and were satisfied the investigation had been thorough and the consequences were both “significant and appropriate”.
Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth.
Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio.
You can contact her on [email protected].