The former boss of CBA's compensation scheme has been awarded $300,000 in damages after a court sided with him in a defamation case against a so-called consumer activist.
Brendan French – who recently moved to a new role within CBA after running the bank's Open Advice Review program – sued Michael Fraser earlier this year for posting defamatory claims online and for harassing Mr French with "hundreds" of emails, texts and voicemails.
According to court documents, Supreme Court of NSW judge Lucy McCallum said that via his website, The Arbitrator, Mr Fraser had flagged his role as "keeping big business honest" and wrote articles stating that Mr French's role at CBA was "destroying" the lives of customers.
"Under that pious mantle and purportedly in wreak of unspecified wrongs done by the bank to unnamed customers, Mr Fraser has subjected Mr French to a hellish two years of bullying and harassment. Publicly, he has mounted a wide-reaching and wholly unfounded attack on Mr French's reputation," Justice McCallum said.
"In a disturbingly more sinister private campaign, Mr Fraser has bombarded Mr French with hundreds of emails, texts and voice messages, many containing thinly-veiled threats evidently motivated by homophobia and other senseless vitriol."
Referring to a description of an email sent by Fraser to Mr French in February 2013, in which Fraser among other things referred to Mr French's sexuality, the judge said: "No rational person with a genuine concern for the interests of consumers could seriously think that was an appropriate communication in consumer advocacy.
"If there was still any doubt, Mr Fraser's conduct had plainly become that of a stalker."
Justice McCallum determined that Mr French had suffered significant and lasting damage to his reputation as a result of the publications. She added "there is not the smallest suggestion of any actual wrongdoing on Mr French's part."
The court's decision comes days after CBA announced Mr French would take on the role of executive general manager of advocacy and remediation within the marketing and strategy division led by group executive Vittoria Shortt.
"In this new position, Brendan will lead a group-wide focus on customer advocacy and remediation, which extends our commitment to customer service by building a consistent approach to remediation and review of our products and service," a CBA spokesperson said.
Leif Gamertsfelder will now run the bank's compensation scheme, which was set up more than a year ago in response to victims who lost money via its financial planning arm.
The spokesperson added that the scheme is on track to wrap up by the end of 2016.
"Over 23,000 customers have registered for the Open Advice Review program and around 8,000 have requested a review of their advice. More than 1,500 assessments have already been completed and over $2.2 million has been offered in remediation," the spokesperson said.
ifa reported in October that CBA had rejected allegations by a former employee that the bank's compensation scheme was not in the favour of clients. The bank later addressed a letter to a Senate committee, countering the accusations and calling them "highly misleading".
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