The Greg Combet-chaired IFM is owned by 20 industry superannuation funds and manages more than $100 billion of assets for some of those funds and other pension funds around the world. Its largest shareholder is AustralianSuper which holds a 20.5 per cent stake.
Ms Abildgaard alleges in her statement of claim that Mr Michel-Verdier is in line for a long term bonus of up to £20 million ($36 million).
The allegation of the bonus arrangement for Mr Michel-Verdier comes at a time when the union-backed industry super sector has hit out against remuneration pay packets for chief executive officers and other staff in corporate Australia.
Mr Michel-Verdier was subject to a disciplinary panel assessment at IFM that reviewed complaints by Ms Abildgaard.
Court documents show IFM had considered cutting 100 per cent of Mr Michel-Verdier’s short-term bonus for 2018 and advised him to not drink for 12 months at work events after an internal investigation into his alleged conduct.
After the investigation, it is alleged his short-term bonus was eventually reduced to a maximum of 57.5 per cent of his potential bonus.
Despite that action, several senior sources inside the industry super and union movement have expressed outrage over the size of the long-term bonus that was alleged to have been available to Mr Michel-Verdier.
That number is an order of magnitude that is ten times higher than any number I have heard of in the sector.
Senior industry superannuation sector source
«That number on the face of it is an order of magnitude that is ten times higher than any number I have heard of in the sector,» said one senior source at a large industry super fund that is a shareholder in IFM.
Another senior source working at an IFM shareholder industry fund said: «I’ve never heard of a bonus that is anything like that much [in the industry superannuation sector]. That’s an extraordinary amount of money for a group that is supposed to take care of the battlers.»
Another senior source at a large fund said the case showed the «attitude and aggression» of some parts of the industry super sector.
«There is a lot of hubris in the [industry fund] super sector, but we’re not perfect,» they said.
«It’s not a good look. You can’t sell that. That’s why we hate long-term incentives,» another senior industry fund source said.
Despite denying the alleged $36 million figure, IFM would not clarify the size of Mr Michel-Verdier’s bonus and has tried to limit discussion of the bonus in the London legal hearings.
A spokesman for AustralianSuper declined to comment when questioned about potential excessive remuneration at IFM. First Super — which shares an external media consultant with IFM — also declined to comment.
The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), which represents the industry funds, has been a vocal critic of excessive executive remuneration in Australia’s corporate sector but declined to comment, referring all questions to IFM.
ACSI has railed against excessive CEO remuneration in several forums including in its annual report on CEO pay where it has described large payments in spite of conduct issues «tone deaf».
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten — a one-time director of AustralianSuper — has also hit out against «fat cat bonuses». He did not respond to questions on IFM’s alleged pay packets this week.
As part of her claim, Ms Abildgaard has provided the court with a series of WhatsApp messages between herself and Mr Michel-Verdier from the early hours of March 17, 2018 both during and after the work drinks at club Bling Bling.
According to her claim, the messages include Mr Michel-Verdier saying: «We could have a lot of fun» and «if I was 20 years younger I would be all over you». Ms Abildgaard also alleges he told her that evening: «You do not understand, I’m so much older than you. You are so young. I can teach you a lot about sex.»
She also alleges her internal complaint following her resignation was not properly dealt with by IFM and that the group is beset with a sexist and bullying culture. She cites IFM documents that allegedly say 19 out of 25 voluntary departures at IFM over a six-month period were women.
Mr Michel-Verdier denies he harassed Ms Abildgaard and has said he was sending her his room number at her request to assist with her hotel checkout in the morning.
The employment tribunal heard Ms Abildgaard resigned from IFM to take a job at another fund manager about a month after the work trip to Madrid.
Ms Abildgaard alleges Mr Michel-Verdier is lying about his behaviour towards her to protect his rights to his bonuses.
She has also claimed that IFM has acted aggressively towards her in its defence of the matter.
IFM is defending the allegations brought by Ms Abildgaard.
“We acknowledge that this case has resulted in considerable difficulty to all parties involved,» an IFM spokesman said.
«Following a comprehensive investigation, appropriate actions were put in place in accordance with our strict employee policies.»
Sarah Danckert is a business reporter.
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.