Grant Kelley, the former boss of shopping centre giant Vicinity Centres who abruptly left the company following two separate findings of sexual harassment and a dysfunctional workplace, has met lawyers to consider legal action against the company.
Kelley told this masthead: “I am reserving my legal rights,” confirming he has met lawyers but is restrained from saying too much. However, he strongly denied he was forced to leave the company because of the sexual harassment complaint.
Former Vicinity boss Grant Kelley says he co-operated fully with the investigation, but denied the allegations.Credit:Jessica Hromas
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Kelley was the subject of an internal inquiry by Vicinity into allegations that he made repeated inappropriate and sexual comments to a former co-worker Marie Festa, who at the time was Vicinity’s head of corporate affairs.
Festa made a number of allegations against Kelley, including that he made intrusive comments about her attractiveness and boasted to her about his sexual conquests.
Kelley had previously announced in October that he was retiring from the chief executive role within the next six months, but a day before the group’s November 15 annual shareholder meeting, it was announced he would step down the next day after the meeting, just before the allegations surfaced.
Vicinity says it expedited his retirement after some of the allegations raised were proven and an internal review revealed a dysfunctional workplace and discord arising from some of Kelley’s behaviours.
“We take allegations of misconduct very seriously and follow a strict protocol to address concerns as and when they are raised,” Vicinity said.
Kelley said he co-operated fully with the sexual harassment investigation. He denied the allegations and said he maintained that denial. “My decision to leave my role at Vicinity has nothing to do with those allegations or the investigation,” he said.
“While I’m not happy in the way in which it all happened, it has allowed me to get on to my new initiative and that is good for everyone.”
Kelley said he has “moved on” and is establishing a new private equity fund with $100 million of seed money from wealthy backers including property developer Larry Kestelman and Adelaide-based investor Ross Pelligra, a sponsor of the Adelaide 36ers basketball team.
“I have been contacted by an untold number of people as well as potential investors in my new fund … all offering support,” he said.
The fund will buy and redevelop rural and regional shopping centres. Kelly said he intended to build the fund to about $1 billion in value over the next three years. One shopping centre on his radar is the McLaren Vale Central mall in Adelaide’s wine district.
Festa, who resigned this month, said while she was not a “fragile” person, she was “infuriated” that the remarks were made.
“This kind of sexual harassment can make you question whether you’re actually being valued because you’re good at what you do or whether it’s because they have other ideas about you,” Festa told The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday.
Kelley joined Australia’s second-largest retail landlord in 2018. The real estate trust has a market value of $8.9 billion and owns or manages 60 malls across the country worth $24 billion.
Vicinity said its independent external investigation found that four allegations raised by Festa were proven and it took advice on the appropriate sanctions against Kelley.
A spokesman for Kelley added: “The impression that Grant’s retirement from Vicinity had been accelerated by the company as a result of the recent investigation, the purported adverse findings, and the warning, is wrong”.
“Grant decided to retire and executed a confidential retirement deed and his intended retirement was announced before the investigation was concluded and the timing of his departure had nothing to do with the investigation, the findings or the warning”.
The Market Recap newsletter is a wrap of the day’s trading. Get it each weekday afternoon.
Most Viewed in Business
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article