Single mum learns loyalty means little to Westpac

by Michael West | Aug 29, 2015 | Business, Comment & Analysis

It was just days before she was due to give birth to her third child that Dana Joab found her bank accounts and her assets were frozen.

The single mother had banked with Westpac since she was about 13 years old: “every loan, all my accounts, every car loan, my mortgage”

I can never get back what they took from me; the joy of the birth of my baby boy.
– Dana Joab

Westpac did not tell their loyal customer that it had earlier been subpoenaed by eBay, where she was once a contractor, to produce all her bank records.

And even though the later court orders freezing her account included provisions for reasonable living and medical expenses and made no mention of electronic withdrawals – Joab was forced by Westpac to physically attend the branch, heavily pregnant and with her four and eight year-old daughters also in tow.

This is a case which calls into question the conduct of big corporates in preserving their financial interests and balancing that with a need to show basic humanity.

Impossible wait

“It was Friday February 28, 2014. I attended the Westpac branch at Balmain and they are short staffed,” she told Fairfax Media this week.

“The line is long. It is a hot day and physically I am struggling. I wait about twenty minutes before leaving. It was too painful to stand in the line. I go back to the car and break down weeping in front of my little four year old girl. I have not a single cent in my wallet. I only used cards.”

She rang her estranged husband Glen, to ask for help.

“He went into the bank and waited in line until it was close to my turn and called me at which time I hobbled back into the bank in agony and waited while they contacted (her contact at Westpac) so I could take some money out before the weekend.”

This was Joab’s gathering nightmare after just learning she had been joined with her estranged-husband Glen Gaunt in a lawsuit by digital shopping giant eBay.

Gaunt had been a sales manager at eBay and Joab had a contract with eBay to deliver advertising services.

EBay alleges the two took sales commissions to which they were not entitled. They strongly deny the claim and plan to fight the case this month.

They are now considering a claim against eBay, its lawyers Norton Rose Fulbright and Westpac. But they have no money to fund it.

Christmas freeze

Without letting her know, eBay had sought ex parte orders in 2014. Ex parte means one party (eBay) did not have to have the other parties (Gaunt and Joab) present when it sought the orders to freeze their assets.

The stress of Gaunt being sued by eBay had already taken its toll. The pair had separated in late-2013. It had been a difficult pregnancy too, with a risk of uterine rupture, and the doctor had told her to stay off her feet.

Westpac was aware of the pregnancy. Nevertheless, on Thursday, January 23, 2014, Joab was served with a subpoena to produce documents in eBay’s case against Glen. She ended up producing more than 7000 documents.

Ebay claimed last month that many of the documents sought under discovery by Gaunt and Joab to defend the case against them have been destroyed.

After realising that she had been joined as a defendant, Dana Joab took on Clamenz as her lawyers. On Friday February 21 – with her baby due to come weeks early by C-Section on March 5 – she signed a mortgage with Clamenz and they took the title of her house.

The next Friday, February 28, Dana Joab went to a meeting with her lawyers. Her estranged husband Glen told her he could not pay for parking on his credit card.

“This is the first notice I have that there is an issue with our accounts,” said Joab.

“I go home and check internet banking and can see all my balances but the available amount column is marked to $0.00 on all accounts – even the credit cards and Glen’s super.

“By then it was Friday afternoon on the last weekend before I am due to give birth. Glen has an argument with Westpac who say we must physically attend the bank – even though they know I am in pain, it is very hot, and I am at the end of a high-risk pregnancy”.

Also that afternoon, her contact at Westpac typed up a letter and sent it in an express post envelope so it arrived the next week. “It was of little use”. The weekend before she gave birth she was alone with two young children, penniless.

Health fund default

Worse, as her health insurance direct debit was due. On March 3, she found herself in default with her health fund Grand United, just two days before the birth

“Day-care fees also defaulted and the pre-school which Jennah attended was nasty about the whole situation and told me if I wasn’t able to pay the fees electronically (they refused to accept cash) that they had a waiting list that was18 months long and that Jennah would be kicked out of her school. It was horrible. I increased my credit limit on Amex to allow for all the bills to begin coming out of there.”

Then Noah was born.

“I can never get back what they took from me; the joy of the birth of my baby boy, the only son I was ever going to have. They robbed me of that joy, that peace of mind.

“I didn’t have a cot, I didn’t have a change table. I didn’t have any money even to buy breast pads or singlets for the baby. I couldn’t pay bills online”.

She discharged herself from hospital early so that she could attend meetings with her lawyers.

“In mid-March, just after the baby came I went in to the bank branch to withdraw money. I was in pain because I was recovering from the C-Section. And I had ruptured two discs in my back.

“I was standing in a long queue at the bank, with three children, one a newborn – the others four and eight – I remember walking back to the car and just crying, with Jennah, the four year old, looking at me. She was hungry and I didn’t have any money to buy her something to eat.”

A few weeks later, Norton Rose insisted a valuer go through her house and take photographs despite being sent a letter on the 4th March 2014 where Joab’s lawyers explained to Norton Rose the “valuer will have to conduct his valuation based on an external view of the premises in light of the fact that Dana is about to give birth and it is simply not possible to provide access to inside the premises.” eBay was not happy with that and insisted the valuer come through the house. Joab was forced to concede and the valuer came through the property on 27th March 2014.

Westpac quiet

Westpac, which is a banker to eBay Inc (which owns eBay Australia) and PayPal which was owned by eBay, declined to respond to specific questions for this story.

“Due to customer confidentiality, we cannot discuss details of the bank’s arrangements with this client. However, Westpac is routinely served with Court freezing orders and on these occasions, acts in accordance with relevant Westpac procedures. Clients are still permitted to manually undertake transactions permitted by the Orders,” said an email from a spokeswoman.

Fairfax Media also put questions to Westpac’s lawyers Gadens. There was no response.

Dana Joab’s lawyers sent a letter to Westpac (28th February 2014) asking that Joab be allowed to access her bank accounts. “Clearly Westpac is not a party to the order. There is no proper basis for your client, through your firm, advising Westpac of the order. We submit that the only reason for advising Westpac is for the tortious purpose of interfering with our client’s contractual relations.”

They received a letter from Gadens on behalf of Westpac that if they were to proceed with the application Westpac would fight it. Worse, the letter ended with a threat that if the application were to be made, the bank would make an “application seeking indemnity cost against your client”.

eBay’s lawyers, Norton Rose were copied in on the correspondence. eBay and Norton Rose have also declined to respond to questions.

Initially, when contacted by Fairfax Media, Dana Joab was reluctant to go on the record. It has been painful to relive the events of last year.

She agreed however that the story was in the public interest if it could prevent this kind of disgraceful behaviour by banks, multinational companies and their lawyers ever happening again.

The case against Gaunt and Joab is up for a directions hearing in two weeks.

Michael West established Michael West Media in 2016 to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. West was formerly a journalist and editor with Fairfax newspapers, a columnist for News Corp and even, once, a stockbroker.

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