MediaWorks HR and legal head who oversaw assault claim inquiry resigns

A senior MediaWorks staffer who was the company’s HR and legal director during a 2019 investigation into an alleged sexual assault at a company promotional event has resigned.

Workers had previously expressed concern to the Herald that Alex Nicholson was still heading the company’s HR department, given she led its legal and HR branch for two of the years encompassed by the recent Maria Dew QC independent investigation into MediaWorks.

In an email to staff this afternoon, chief executive Cam Wallace said she had resigned and would be leaving the company at the end of November.

“Alex will step away from the P&C [People and Culture] Director role for the remainder of her time with MediaWorks in order to focus on a plan to address the recommendations from the independent workplace review.”

Wallace said in a statement that Nicholson was key in setting up the strategic framework to deliver on the recommendations, and considers it necessary to have new leadership in P&C to execute the plan over the next two to three years.

Dew’s report said MediaWorks made a number of missteps when responding to a complaint from a young woman that she was sexually assaulted at a 2019 event.

The report said a senior MediaWorks employee engaged in sexual activity with a teenager at the event after she’d been served drinks all evening and became “heavily intoxicated”.

No staff at the event intervened and the young woman said she was left with “serious psychological harm”, Dew found.

The investigation into the woman’s complaint was inadequate, Dew said.

The company didn’t consider bringing in external investigators, the report said, nor was the complainant given a chance to respond to witness statements.

Also, Dew noted there was no formal written investigation report setting out its findings.

In March this year, Nicholson’s job title was listed on the company’s website as HR and Legal Director. It said she led the legal team, standards committee and was responsible for board-related matters and corporate governance.

Now, it said she is the People and Culture director and she became responsible for the People & Culture team in 2019, which became her sole focus in 2021.

Sources told the Herald they believed it would have been hard for staff to trust change at the organisation was going to occur with Nicholson still in a senior position.

“You’ve got to make change at the top, and that has to be your head of HR as well,” one former worker said.

Another claimed in their opinion the 2019 incident was “covered up”, not investigated thoroughly and that the accused worker faced “no consequences”.

That person claimed the victim had been left traumatised.

Another MediaWorks staffer said in their opinion it was “unacceptable” Nicholson until recently held a senior HR position.

Dew said many participants in her review who had raised misconduct complaints over the past three years stated they felt their complaint had been poorly handled by MediaWorks’ People & Culture team.

Some, she said, even reported being warned off raising any complaints and that members of the P&C team had expressed powerlessness in their role.

“As a result, front line staff and many managers report being wary of taking any concerns to the team, and they regard the Whistle Blower Policy as ineffective.”

The lowest overall scores in the survey related to trust in People & Culture policies and procedures and low levels of trust in misconduct complaints being taken seriously or dealt with fairly.

Dew recommended in her report that the People and Culture team be reviewed by an external expert.

She wrote that this was to ensure the team had a senior and experienced practitioner with responsibility for supporting the plan for culture change, and to ensure best practice models are adopted for dealing with misconduct and MediaWorks ‘ employment law obligations.

“The P&C team [need to] be funded to deal with sensitive sexual complaints or other serious misconduct allegations, by way of an external independent complaint service and external independent investigation when required.”

SEXUAL HARM – DO YOU NEED HELP?
If it’s an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you’ve ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone contact the Safe to Talk confidential crisis helpline on:
• Text 4334 and they will respond
• Email [email protected]
• Visit https://safetotalk.nz/contact-us/ for an online chat

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