Former Domain boss Antony Catalano accused of overseeing a boys’ club workplace culture

Following the resignation of Domain chief executive Antony Catalano last week, allegations have surfaced of a sexist culture that tolerated misbehaviour and poor decision making within the real estate company that was spun out of Fairfax last year.

In a series of stories in the Australian Financial Review and Fairfax’s metro titles, the company is alleging Catalano “oversaw a boys club workplace culture” at the newly listed organisation with complaints stretching back two years.

Catalano has had a rocky relationship with Fairfax over the past decade

Catalano has reportedly engaged high-profile media and defamation lawyer, Mark O’Brien, to defend himself against the stories, which he reportedly denies.

Fairfax alleges Nick Falloon, chairman of both Fairfax and Domain, was concerned that the Domain boss’ conduct “might not meet the standard required for a chief executive” and confronted Catalano about the allegations over Christmas. The conversation reportedly ended with the CEO resigning on the spot.

While the Fairfax articles do not allege sexual harassment by Catalano or his executives, they suggest a sexist and disrespectful culture within Domain. They also allege that cocaine was regularly taken at staff parties, although the reports say that Catalano denies being involved in this.

“While there was no sexual harassment according to people who work there, there was a general tone of disrespect towards women and a permissive environment that encouraged heavy after hours socialising among work colleagues. Women were referred to as ‘babe’ or ‘doll’ and urged to smile more by male colleagues according to a complaint made to the human resources department.”

The AFR suggests: “Antony Catalano represents the first Australian CEO casualty of the #MeToo era”.

In a further allegation, the reports say that advertisers were taken on overseas junkets where some of the men on the trip used prostitutes.

Catalano’s relationship with Fairfax has been rocky over his career. Having been made redundant from his position as The Age’s property and marketing director in 2008, he founded The Weekly Review with the backing of 20 Melbourne real estate agents with the aim of offering the city’s “most comprehensive display of gloss real estate advertising”.

A year later, Fairfax sued for peace in buying a stake in The Weekly Review’s publisher, and in 2013 appointed Catalano as CEO of the company’s Domain real estate arm.

In a memo to staff, Falloon announced a review of Domain’s culture and encouraged staff to participate: “Be assured that the Board and management are committed to ensuring that Domain is an employer of choice,” Falloon wrote.

“Our future prosperity is based upon the quality of our people and creating a positive, safe and welcoming workplace.”

Fairfax, Domain and Catalano have been approached for comment. Domain Holdings’ stock price fell slightly yesterday losing five cents to close at $3.03. The company peaked at $3.94 on its first day of listing in November last year.


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