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Old 04-17-2004, 22:44   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Ford withdraws German lawsuits against former exec

Associated Press

TROY -- Ford Motor Co. doesn’t want its former European chief working for a rival automaker, but it has given up the fight to preempt him from finding another auto-industry job.

This week, the two sides agreed to drop lawsuits in Germany, and Ford withdrew its appeal of a preliminary injunction issued in January in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The injunction prohibits Ford from enforcing a non-compete clause that threatens a lawsuit against any auto industry company that hires Martin Leach. Ford claims that Leach quit and Leach says he was fired. The German cases involved Leach’s effort to work for rival Fiat Auto.

“Martin is naturally very pleased with this development,” his spokesman, David Rigg, said.

Ford spokesman Oscar Suris had no comment Thursday on the developments.

In August 2003, Leach met with executive vice president David Thursfield, to air his concerns about a “leadership vacuum” at the company and his desire to negotiate “alternative employment” options. He had received an offer to run Fiat Auto, the struggling Italian automaker that is 10-percent owned by General Motors Corp., for up to $4 million a year.

Ford took his comments as a resignation, though Leach said he was careful not to resign without assurance that he could take the Fiat job.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman agreed that Leach had not quit and issued the injunction in January, saying Leach would be irreparably harmed without it.

But Ford apparently still believes it would be harmed if Leach went to a competitor, so the U.S. case is expected to go to trial in the second half of this year. Leach, who has found part-time work at an automotive consulting firm, likely would seek money damages.

Ford’s lawyer Thomas Kienbaum had said in court that the automaker might be open to Leach working for an auto supplier.
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