May 13, 2015 – April 9, 2015 — A high-level legal battle between search firm Korn Ferry International and one of its former high-level executives has taken a sordid turn.
In a court filing late Thursday, Korn Ferry said it fired Robert Damon, its former executive chairman for the Americas, for allegedly using his company email address repeatedly “to solicit and arrange for meetings with at least 20 different call girls and escorts.’’ In addition, Korn/Ferry alleges Mr. Damon used his company email ”to receive and distribute photographs of nude and seminude women,’’ the filing added.
Mr. Damon couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Thursday. His lawyer, William Waldo, said he hadn’t yet seen Korn Ferry’s claims, which were filed at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The allegations by the world’s biggest executive search firm came in a response to a suit brought last month by Mr. Damon, who alleged he was fired after complaining to board members about Chief Executive Gary Burnison’s alleged treatment of several female colleagues. He also said he lost more than $1.7 million in deferred compensation due to his termination for cause.
Mr. Damon’s suit, filed March 10 in California Superior Court in Los Angeles, claims Mr. Burnison engaged in a pattern of abuse and discrimination toward Korn Ferry’s female employees starting around 2010. The suit alleges that after senior Korn Ferry executive Ana Dutra complained about such conduct to a party who wasn’t named in the suit, Mr. Burnison threatened her with a golf club.
The company has vigorously objected to the allegations in the suit and has said they were without merit.
The sordid allegations heighten an already potentially embarrassing dispute for a high-profile search firm that markets itself as a “provider of talent management solutions.’’ Mr. Damon was among Korn Ferry’s own talent. The firm hired him in 2004 as president of North America, its biggest unit, and later promoted him to run its Americas region.
Michael Distefano, Korn Ferry’s chief marketing officer, said previously the company fired Mr. Damon for inappropriate personal behavior and violations of company policies.
In its filing, Korn Ferry alleged Mr. Damon’s emails “detailed everything from measurements and physical descriptions of the call girls to the price of their services.” The company also alleged Mr. Damon “repeatedly directed the call girls and their agents to Korn Ferry’s website to confirm his identity and position with Korn Ferry.’’
Korn Ferry said in the filing it canceled Mr. Damon’s deferred compensation because he was terminated for cause. In submitting its response to a U.S. District Court, the search firm sought to transfer the Damon case there—saying his claims are covered under a federal retirement benefits law.
Korn Ferry has commanded the top spot in the global and U.S. search industry for more than a decade, according to Scott Scanlon, CEO of Hunt Scanlon Media, a market-research firm that tracks executive recruiters. Korn Ferry has helped place leaders at Office Depot Inc., Target Corp., Major League Baseball and elsewhere.
The Wall Street Journal, by Joann S. Lublin