Channel Seven has launched a brutal legal assault on former Sunrise staffer Simon Reeve - demanding he pay the network 'compensation' and give back six years of his wages.
The former sports presenter and game show host, known as one of the network's 'nice guys', is suing Seven for up to $1 million after he was suddenly axed.
The veteran presenter, 58, claims the TV station owed him the entitlements of an employee when he got the chop in May.
However Seven denies it owes him anything, arguing he was a contractor who it had paid through his own private company, Simon Reeve Productions.
So the network counter-sued Reeve and his company in the Federal Court on Friday, with court documents making the extraordinary claim that if a judge rules he was entitled to the protections of an employee, then he should have to pay back the money Seven paid to his contracting company.
Former Weekend Sunrise presenter Simon Reeve's legal battle has taken a turn - with the network counter-suing him in the Federal Court
The long-time Seven personality has been with the network in one form or another over four decades. Above, with the Sunrise Cash Cow
In a statement of claim, Seven said while it denies liability, the TV station is entitled to 'compensation' if Reeve makes out his argument he was a network employee.
'If Seven is ordered to pay any compensation to Reeve, Seven will have suffered loss or damage because of the contravening conduct of SRP (or) of Reeve and is entitled to compensation against them,' the document claims.
Seven argues that if the court finds Reeve to be an employee, it's entitled to be repaid what it shelled out to the presenter's company from September 2014 until he was let go in June 2020.
Their argument is that Reeve or his company were 'unjustly enriched' because Seven had a mistaken belief about their business relationship.
'If ... Seven is found to be liable to Reeve or SRP (Simon Reeve Productions) for the entitlements and amounts claimed, Seven is entitled to be repaid the amount of the (almost six years of) Payments and the GST Payments from SRP, further or alternatively, from Reeve,' the document claimed.
Seven has argued the court should find that Reeve and his business contravened the Fair Work Act and has sought an order that he pay interest and legal costs.
Reeve's lawyer John Laxon slammed Seven's cross-claim as 'completely devoid of merit'.
'So much so that I doubt their lawyers are actually prepared to run the argument in court.'
Mr Laxon claimed Seven was trying to 'drive a truck through the statutory prohibition on sham contracting, by making it the employee's fault and problem.
'No point having the prohibition if that’s the case'.
Kicked off the couch: The long-time Sunrise personality (right) was told his services were no longer needed in May and launched legal action in the Federal Court in September
The ubiquitous Seven personality presented Million Dollar Minute, It's Academic and regularly appeared on breakfast television
Weekend Sunrise crew: Reeve, back row, in the Martin Place studio with Basil Zempalas and Monique Wright
Reeve was let go by Sunrise executive producer Michael Pell in May after about 18 years with the network.
The axe fell almost four decades after he first appeared on the network in Western Australia.
Insiders blamed Reeve's departure on his sports presenter counterpart at Nine's Weekend Today, Clint Stanaway, moving on, and financial pressures at Seven.
'Nine had dumped its weekend sports presenter on Today and we couldn’t justify keeping [Reeve] on. So we didn’t renew his contract,' a Seven source said.
'He was just so expensive, flying him up and back and accommodating him - as well as the retainer. You can get a dedicated junior for half that and no expenses.
'News was under such pressure. Axing him saved close to half a million [dollars] and didn’t lose anything on air.'
Meanwhile, coronavirus border closures blocked Reeve from being able to fly to Sydney each weekend from his home in the Gold Coast hinterland.
Reeve was paid some $250,000-a-year in his role and Seven studiously maintains he had structured his arrangement as a contractor.
Reeve's Gold Coast hinterland oasis: A huge deck overlooks the pool area, his two-acre horse farm and tranquil bushland and pasture beyond
The property includes a stable and a shelter for the horses that roam around, and can be heard neighing in the distance from the house
Reeve complained about being offered just five weeks pay in a personal email to chairman Kerry Stokes and corporate director Bruce McWilliam.
In the message, obtained exclusively by Daily Mail Australia, Reeve wrote: 'I understand times are tough for the business, but five weeks won't come close to giving my family and I a reasonable buffer.
'I've never quibbled over or demanded anything, the first number that was put on any contract with 7 I've been happy to sign, without an agent.
'I'm stung and distraught to think my years with 7... was worth five weeks pay.'
A Seven insider on Monday disputed that the network was suing Reeve, arguing it was simply activating a clause in his contract.
'The contract contains an indemnity that basically says if ultimately he's found not to be a contractor he had to fix us up for any damage suffered.
'All we've done is activate that clause - we're not really suing him.'
Reeve frequently posts photos in Instagram of himself on his property - working in the yard or relaxing in the tranquil surrounds
A second Seven source said Reeve had long been considered one of former CEO Tim Worner's 'untouchables' at the business.
Worner quit last year after six years at the top of the network, himself surviving a lurid scandal involving his executive assistant Amber Harrison.
As for Reeve, he recently put put two acre Gold Coast hinterland property - described as an 'idyllic acreage environment' - up for sale.
The 7,735sqm five-bedroom, three bathroom house and estate he shares with his wife Linda is now under contract, a real estate advertisement said.
Reeve and his partner purchased the property in 2010 for $810,000 and it was for sale for $1.1million.
Reeve's lawyers will have the opportunity to defend the cross claim. Meanwhile, the case will return to the Federal Court for a conference on November 11.
Simon Reeve's full 'thank you' email to Seven network bosses Kerry Stokes and Bruce McWilliam
Dear Kerry and Bruce,
I just wanted to say thank you for the opportunities and wonderful times with the 7 network, since I commenced my second stint of employment back from living in Botswana in 2002.
From producing Undercover Angels, hosting Quizmaster, the incredible Bali bombing appeal, News presenting, Sunrise, Weekend Sunrise, It's Academic for 9 years, The Force for 13 years, commentating at the Athens and Beijing Olympics, It Takes Two, Million Dollar Minute, the odd failed pilot and many memorable Telethons, there have been few dull moments.
Live television especially has a way of producing adrenaline like few other professions and I will never forget the visceral moment the surviving members of the Bali bombings from Kingsley Football club walked into the studio at TVW as I stood in front of a camera introducing them, with people standing and clapping thunderously, including the floor crew.
Simon Reeve is suing Seven, claiming it breached his 'ongoing contract' and misrepresented his employment status
I was near speechless with the emotion and haven't had an experience in television like it, before or since.
It seemed the ultimate expression of our platform that day to convey something important and make a difference.
I will also never forget announcing Trevor Sauer winning $750,000 on Quizmaster in 2002 and Andrew Skarbek pocketing a million bucks on MDM in 2015.
There's something about saying, 'That's correct... you have just won a million dollars' that triggers a first (OMG) thought for the Chairman of the company!
I love television. It's all I've known over 41 years since walking into the TVW Dianella building in February, 1979 as a pimply, clueless 17 year old. Every single day I've cared deeply about the job I do and the product to which I contribute.
When Michael rang me Thursday of last week to say the role of Weekend Sunrise sports presenter/features reporter was no longer required, I was devastated.
I've been very patient over the past 3 months as Martin Place has dealt with Covid-19 disruption, offering work arounds including relocating to Sydney for as long as it took, but understanding the challenges.
It hasn't been easy with no pay through this time thrust upon us. I thought with Jim's departure and Ryan's leaving in the past fortnight, it stood me in good stead as an experienced hand to keep my job. It wasn't to be.
When I asked Michael in that same phone call if there was an exit payment in mind, he suggested 5 weeks.
I have to say that was a huge shock.
I broke the news to my family only yesterday, unable to pretend anymore that I was going back to work.
Reeve regularly worked on Sunrise and was a regular presence when Mel and Kochie were on the couch. Above, the trio together in 2013 - with Kochie the only survivor
I would have walked into the sunset with no regrets if after 18 incredible years with 7, I'd been offered fair exit terms, for what I feel has been an unfailingly whole hearted effort. Decency and work ethic are everything to me. Funny, but I'm most proud of It's Academic.
I know I'm well respected and liked by my colleagues and have been a sounding board for many on air people, producers and others over the years, through their own challenges.
I'm 58 and far from thoughts of retirement. Not that Linda would let me, not that I can, not that I'd want to. I have too much to give and to do. We face a very uncertain future given the state of the industry and the economy more generally.
I understand times are tough for the business, but 5 weeks won't come close to giving my family and I a reasonable buffer.
I've never quibbled over or demanded anything, the first number that was put on any contract with 7 I've been happy to sign, without an agent.
I've much preferred direct, eye to eye 'gentlemen's' agreements.
Bruce, I have always enjoyed speaking and dealing with you and your honesty and integrity.
I believe I still had a lot to offer 7 and as much as anyone on air across the network, I think I represented a good example of the best of our brand.
In some capacity I reckon I've been on air pretty much every day on our network for the last 10 years or so, either live, with a new episode or on a re-run of a show.
People I meet comment on this all the time.
A much younger Reeve has been on Channel Seven, on and off, for 41 years
I know cost cutting is a reality of our industry and our company at the moment, but I'm stung and distraught to think my 18 years with 7 this time (plus 8 years when I was a much younger chap, and another 5 years on Beyond 2000) ... 31 years on the screens of 7, was worth 5 weeks pay.
Aside from this, it doesn't recognise I've spent these 12 weeks without pay, trying to find ways to be a contributor, with little feedback.
This is a personal note Kerry and Bruce and I apologise for its length. However I felt reaching out honestly to the 2 people who have been very good to me over many years at 7, might count towards reaching an agreement that enables a period of unprecedented certainty for my family, weekends home and the chance to find other work.
I hope you can view it in the genuine spirit in which it is written.
Although I've witnessed a lot, I've avoided scandal and despised the privileged behaviour of others, conscious of my good fortune to have a job at 7.
I've been a lucky, loyal, bloody hard working and proud part of the network eco-system.
It would be a pleasure to speak to either of you further if you wanted, or a staff member you might want to put me in touch with, in the context of this background.
If you got this far, I deeply appreciate it.
All the very best to you both.
Reeve with his daughter Stella Reeve and music legend Molly Meldrum
Reeve then sent this reply later that day after Mr Stokes and Mr McWilliam responded:
Dear Kerry and Bruce
Thanks so much for the kind replies.
(I have literally been out picking up horse poo for the last 2 hours.)
I understand the strain out there. It's palpable even here in Covid free Qld.
I would not have written this at all, there is too much on your plates to address individual circumstances and I would have limped off into the sunset after these years happily enough if there had been an exit plan that reflected my 18 years this time around and my long association with the 7 brand overall.
But I was shattered after that call as it goes to the core of our self worth. It's been an average week.
I do deeply appreciate your messages and hope we can work something out and that our paths cross again down the bumpy road.