U.S.A.:Ex-Ford executive sues to get work
He says carmaker blocked Fiat job
November 19, 2003
BY JEFFREY MCCRACKEN AND JAMIE BUTTERS
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITERS
Former Ford of Europe President Martin Leach sued Ford Motor Co. Tuesday, saying the automaker fired him in August, then prevented him from taking another executive position in the auto industry.
Leach said he had an offer to become chief executive officer of Italian automaker Fiat Auto SpA but that Ford blocked him from the job by claiming he would be violating the company's noncompetitive clause. Leach says the clause in his contract applies only if the executive quits but not if he is fired.
Ford news releases and public statements since August have insisted Leach resigned.
In the federal lawsuit filed in Detroit, Leach says Fiat told him the CEO job was his if he could get Ford to agree he wouldn't violate any clauses in his Ford contract by taking the Fiat role.
Instead, he said, Ford issued a news release that said Leach quit, despite his insistence otherwise. He said Ford later sued him in Germany, saying his contract had a clause that prevented him from taking the Fiat job and threatened to sue Fiat if it hired him.
In mid-September Fiat informed Leach it was going to look elsewhere for a CEO and on Oct. 8 the company announced it had hired former Volkswagen Brazil head Herbert Demel as CEO.
Ford spokesman Ken Zino declined to comment on the lawsuit and referred to a news release that said Leach "elected to leave the company to pursue new opportunities." Leach had been with Ford for 27 years.
Leach, like most other Ford officers, in 2002 received one year's worth of salary in restricted stock in exchange for signing an agreement that prohibited him from working for a competitor within two years of leaving the carmaker. Leach's contention is the agreement applied only if the executive quit.
Leach's attorney, Thomas Hathaway of Detroit, could not be reached for comment.
Leach's suit says he didn't approach Fiat about the job but received an "unsolicited offer," on Aug. 1. The suit says he was interested in the Fiat job because earlier he had "learned of circumstances within Ford that led him to believe his job was under threat."
He did not specify what those circumstances were.
Leach said he approached Ford Executive Vice President David Thursfield, who oversees Ford of Europe, and John Walker, the executive director of human resources, the morning of Aug. 7. He told them he thought his job was in jeopardy and that he had another offer.
Leach said the meeting ended with Thursfield and Walker saying they needed to talk to senior management in Dearborn.
Leach said he worked the rest of that day but later was confronted by Thursfield, who said he "was taking it that Mr. Leach had resigned." Leach said he responded that was not the case.
In his lawsuit, Leach says he returned to work the next day, and despite repeatedly telling Thursfield and Ford's top lawyer Dennis Ross that he had not resigned, Thursfield told Leach "he would assume," Leach had resigned. He was then told "to take his holidays early," starting the next workday.
Several weeks later, Fiat announced it had hired Demel for the CEO job. Leach says Ford withdrew the lawsuit in Germany once it became apparent Fiat wasn't going to hire him.
Leach says his damages from Ford are more than $75,000, the minimum amount needed for the case to be heard in U.S. District Court. The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge John Corbett O'Meara.
Leach is also seeking an injunction that prohibits Ford from saying that he quit voluntarily or that he cannot work in the auto industry for two years.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....