Mediacom defends Rob Moore court case: Mars ‘unequivocally disliked Rob’

CONTENT WARNING: This post mentions depression and suicide ideation and may be triggering for some readers.

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Mediacom has lodged its defence in the court case brought against it by former executive Rob Moore.

The Group M agency’s former general manager alleges that he was made redundant because he disclosed a diagnosis of depression to CEO Willie Pang last year, but Mediacom, in court documents viewed by Mumbrella, contends that the redundancy was part of a restructure influenced by Moore’s poor performance on key accounts including Mars.

Rob Moore commenced court proceedings against his former employer in July

Mediacom states that, in May 2018, Group M CEO Mark Lollback confided in Pang that he was doubtful about Moore’s ability to become managing director of the Melbourne office, but was prepared for him to be appointed to the less senior role of general manager. A month earlier, Mediacom’s head of talent gave feedback that Moore needed to focus on leadership and motivation after he participated in an assessment day for the GM role.

On 22 August, Mars, an account which Moore led, gave feedback to Pang that Mediacom had fallen behind another agency in leadership. “In spite of them loving every other piece of our presentation – they unequivocally disliked Rob” and Mediacom “need[ed] a change at that level”, reads the court document. Earlier in the month, Mediacom had retained the account.

A month later, in September 2018, Mars told Mediacom that Moore had performed poorly in a meeting and wanted him taken off the account immediately. In response, the agency had Moore step back and supervise a client partner – who performed the work for Mars – in a “behind-the-scenes role”.

In October, Moore told Pang he had a diagnosis of depression. Mediacom states that Pang asked if Moore wanted him to share the diagnosis with human resources or Moore’s team, so they could offer support. Moore allegedly declined this offer because he wanted the disclosure to remain confidential, and preferred to self-manage the situation.

Mediacom says Pang referred Moore to the agency’s EAP [employee assistance program] counselling service and checked in with him every day or two. Pang and Nicole Boyd, then the chief client officer, were to focus on ‘client escalation’ issues to give Moore the ability to focus on ‘back-of-house’ operational work. However, Mediacom denies that the words “flexible working plan” were ever used to describe this arrangement, despite acknowledging that Moore’s role was changed to assist with his recovery.

Moore says that his workload, rather than reducing, actually increased, as he spent significant time on clients such as Fonterra, Cricket Australia, Deakin University, Australian Unity, and Shell. Mediacom responded that those clients “were at, or approaching, a critical level of risk before of [Moore’s] performance managing those client relationships”.

However, the agency contends that, while Moore was asked to help on the Victorian Government account during the post-Christmas period when there was only a skeleton staff, he actively asked to be included in the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup pitch (which CHE Proximity ultimately won), and was only responsible for minimal work on the Bet Easy and Kmart (retained by UM) projects. Accordingly, it overall denies that his workload increased.

Moore claims his mental health worsened during this period, which Mediacom says it did not know and therefore cannot admit. The agency says that, during check ins with Pang, Moore said some weeks “he was doing better and some weeks he said he was doing worse”.

When Moore originally commenced proceedings in July, he referenced an email in which he said that he “has gone from being the MD-elect to feeling completely worthless in the space of around six to eight months”, his “depression was real”, and his “relationship with work had become a negative one that is self-fulfilling”.

Mediacom provided further detail of this email, quoting excerpts in which Moore wrote:

“I’m becoming less and less clear about the value I’m adding to the business”

“I can see the people around me are really hurting and I’m not making things better for them”

“I honestly don’t feel like I can point at any of the works that [sic] passing across my desk and say that it’s good enough”

“What I do know is that this place needs some real leadership and I don’t think I’m providing it”

“I desperately want to be part of MediaCom but I also need to acknowledge that my depression is real and my relationship with work has become a negative one that is self-fulfilling (I don’t do good work, it makes me feel bad, i do worse work, and around we go)”

Moore alleges that he made a complaint on 8 February that he was struggling with his mental health because of his workload. Mediacom denies that complaint was made.

Mediacom’s defence only says that Moore told Pang he “continued to struggle” with his mental health, but did not say this was because of his workload.

Mediacom’s Pang

Moore and Mediacom agree that Pang asked Moore to prepare a staffing proposal for the Melbourne office as part of a budget and cost-out process in January, but Pang confirmed to Moore that his role as general manager was not being considered in that process.

In February, however, Mediacom says Pang began to consider a restructure due to the challenges the Melbourne office was facing, including poor client feedback, for which Moore was allegedly responsible, and high employee turnover. Having Moore as a general manager working predominately on back-of-house issues and a separate managing director (a role Boyd had stepped into) dealing with client issues wasn’t effective, Pang decided.

Moore had acknowledged his mental health was impacting performance in the email sent to Pang. The arrangement in which he stepped back from client-facing work to recover had been in place for four months, and was one Pang had agreed with. But these factors ultimately led Pang to decide upon a restructure which abolished the GM position, making Moore redundant, and involving other redundancies, according to Mediacom’s defence. The agency did not specify which other roles, and how many, were made redundant in that process.

The solution, according to Mediacom, was to hire an external managing director “with leadership experience including proven experience in establishing culture, attracting talent and implementing processes”. It chose Publicis’ Carl Colman, who was appointed after Moore was made redundant.

Moore argued in his court documents that Colman was performing essentially the same role as him, save for the title and remuneration package, and the redundancy was therefore not genuine. Mediacom denies this, pointing to the fact Colman sits on the executive committee, and is responsible for profit and loss, new business projects, growth and sales targets, and product strategy. Moore’s role did not include these functions, the agency says.

After Pang had decided on the restructure and Moore’s consequent redundancy, the pair had a meeting at the start of April. Mediacom claims Pang said he “was not seeing progress in the Melbourne office”, “it was not working” and “in order to make a shift, [Mediacom] had to make a change”. When Moore asked what this meant, Pang said it was time he started looking for a new job.

The defence, filed on 2 October, says that Pang told Moore he was better off remaining with the agency while looking for another job, permitted him to take time away from the office without leave, and said “that even if all [Moore] was doing was coming into the office from time to time to work on job applications that would be okay”.

The media agency denies that Moore was made redundant because of his mental health condition, and denies the loss and damage claimed, including: loss of earnings, and compensation for “shock, distress and humiliation, exacerbation of [his] disability, loss of reputation [and] loss of opportunity for promotion and advancement in his chosen career”.

The defence admits that the dismissal was “adverse action” as defined by the Fair Work Act (because Moore was made redundant), but alleges that the reasons for the dismissal were not unlawful, as claimed by Moore.

Mediacom’s holding group WPP AUNZ is also embroiled in another court case brought by former executive, Carmel Williamson, who is seeking more than $400,000 in damages for a”boys club culture” and lack of support which allegedly led to her being fired. The case was in court yesterday and stood over for a directions hearing on 20 November, but looks likely to be settled.

According to orders made by the court on 13 August, Moore was due to file a reply (if he had one) to Mediacom’s defence by 16 October. That document has not yet been filed. The next step is for the case to proceed to mediation.

Clarification: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the defence included a mistake regarding its admission of adverse action. This has been clarified. It also stated in one instance that Carl Colman was hired as general manager. His role is managing director. This has been corrected. 

If you need urgent help, please contact:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
MensLine Australia 1300 789 978
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636


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