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US:Ex-Ford exec seeks $40 million

Ex-Ford exec seeks $40 million

Fired leader of the Europe division sues for salary he says he lost in departure fight.

By David Shepardson / The Detroit News


Martin Leach, the former head of Ford Motor Co.'s European operations, is seeking at least $40.4 million from the automaker as part of a civil suit over his firing in August 2003, new court documents show.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman last week set a June 16 trial date in Leach's suit against Ford, despite contentious pre-trial squabbles.

Leach, the former president and chief operation officer of Ford of Europe, left in August 2003 after he got an offer to become CEO of Italian automaker Fiat Auto SpA.

Ford claims Leach quit, invoking a clause in his contract that prohibited him from working for another carmaker if he left voluntarily.

Leach claims Ford fired him, allowing him to work for another auto company.

After Fiat learned Ford wouldn't let him join a rival, Fiat withdrew the job offer. Leach filed suit in U.S. District Court. In January 2004, Borman sided with Leach and said Ford had fired him, freeing him to seek employment with an auto company.

Leach has since become CEO of Maserati.

In the new court filing, Leach claims he has lost $7.68 million in salary because he was denied the Fiat job. Since he makes $1.86 million less with Maserati, he is seeking that amount annually for the next 18 years.

In new papers filed in court this week, Ford also detailed some of the highly secret information Leach had access to.

Ford turned over highly secret documents to Leach about succession plans for top company positions. Among the documents are a 2003 CEO candidate review questionnaire with confidential handwritten notes from Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford.

Details of the succession plan are not public, Ford said.

Ford also said Leach had access to secret information that could benefit a competitor.

The information includes the company's strategic plan -- code named "Boardwalk" -- that "graphically describes Ford of Europe's entire strategic business plan, including Ford's product strategy ... and plans for its choice of shared technologies relating to Ford of Europe vehicles, and Mazda, Volvo and other Ford products," lawyer Kathleen A. Clark said in a court filing.

Ford turned over "Boardwalk" documents from 2001 and 2002 to Leach, but he is prohibited from making them public.

Ford said Leach was in possession of other key materials, including the company's product strategy from 2010 through 2015.

The material Leach had access to "also include information relating to planned business relationships with other European vehicle manufacturers regarding cooperation on a specific planned vehicle," Ford said.

Ford has also raised questions about special requests Leach made shortly before he left the company.

"While president and COO of Ford of Europe, Mr. Leach requested and received a rank order listing profitability of Ford's fleet accounts by model and body style. This is not information Ford regularly compiled," Ford wrote in a court filing on Friday. "Shortly before Mr. Leach departed from Ford, he requested and received an update to that information."

The company says it's impossible for Leach to disregard the information he had access to.

"There is no way Mr. Leach could form opinions without factoring in the confidential information and trade secrets he knows," Ford said.

Leach's attorneys want Ford sanctioned for pursuing a claim he disclosed confidential information to a competitor.

"There is no evidence Leach took anything from Ford," said Leach's Detroit attorney Thomas Hathaway.

Hathaway said Ford has never proven that he has ever used any secret information improperly.

"After forcing Leach to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars pressing Ford to explain the basis for its allegation and to identify the specific trade secret Ford claims he misappropriated, Ford has provided neither," Hathaway wrote in a court filing this week.

Ford spokesman Ken Zino said "any statements (Leach) made would be speculation," referring to Leach's assessment of his lost wages.

In January, while Leach was in town for the Detroit Auto Show, Judge Borman met with Ford lawyers, Leach and his attorneys to settle the case before trial, but those discussions were unsuccessful.

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.....
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