When a corporation and one of its executives end their relationship, the split all too often becomes acrimonious. High stakes, intense personal feelings, and the risk of significant injury to reputations on both sides make for highly-charged disputes. Susman Godfrey is among the most experienced firms in the country at handling severance disputes involving corporate executives. As with other types of litigation, we do not limit ourselves to either plaintiffs or defendants, and we have represented both executives and corporations with great success. We have handled executive compensation matters involving many public and private companies, including members of the Fortune 500. Most of our engagements in this area are protected by confidentiality agreements, but if you are interested, we can, upon request, furnish you with the names of top executives who are willing to describe their perception of our abilities. Representative cases that we can describe include the following:
- In 2015 Susman Godfrey prevailed in defending two former financial advisors against claims by Barclays Capital that it was entitled to claw back $4 million in signing bonuses. The bank argued that the terms of promissory notes signed by the financial advisors in connection with the bonuses required them to repay the bank in full if they left the firm for any reason before a seven-year retention period ended. Susman Godfrey attorneys countered that Barclays broke a fundamental promise to them by shutting down the bank’s Latin American wealth management business less than a year after they joined the firm. The three-member FINRA panel sided with Susman Godfrey’s clients, forgiving their debt in full.
- Susman Godfrey took on an executive employment case for Kosmos Energy in January 2013. The Susman Godfrey team handled every aspect of the ICDR litigation. When the case was tried in May 2014, the result was a total victory for Kosmos Energy as the Panel awarded complete relief and attorney’s fees and costs in favor of our client.
- In February 2013, a panel of FINRA arbitrators unanimously ruled in favor of two former Morgan Stanley brokers, represented by Susman Godfrey, in a multi-million-dollar dispute against global bank Morgan Stanley. The case centered on nearly $5 million in bonuses Morgan Stanley paid to the brokers, which the bank claimed were owed back to them when the brokers resigned from the firm to join another bank. After a three-day arbitration and testimony from several witnesses, the panel rejected Morgan Stanley’s claims in their entirety, and ordered that the bank pay nearly $1.5 million to Susman Godfrey’s clients on account of commissions lost as a result of the bank’s actions.
- In 2012 Susman Godfrey represented Pravin Jain, a founder of a technology startup that was sold to Wipro, a large Indian technology company, and other former executives of his company. Under the acquisition agreement, Jain had a right to earn-outs based on the subsequent performance of the division. In a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California, Jain claimed that Wipro breached the acquisition agreement by denying him any opportunity to manage the business to achieve the earn-out targets, costing Jain and his fellow shareholders more than $10 million dollars in additional compensation. The case settled for a confidential amount shortly before trial.
- Susman Godfrey represented founders and early employees of a startup called Epinions in a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court after the cancellation of their stock and options without compensation following an acquisition. Although the CEO and co-founder and the venture capitalists on the board claimed the stock and options were worthless at the time of the acquisition, the lawsuit claimed that the company remained highly valuable, and that the CEO and venture capitalists had in fact laid the groundwork for a subsequent IPO and sale of the company. The lawsuits settled in 2006 for an amount that the defendants insisted remain confidential.
- Susman Godfrey represented Perry Cohan, the former co-owner and CEO of a company purchased by Fiserv, Inc., a publicly-traded financial services company. After Fiserv terminated his employment, Susman Godfrey filed suit in federal court in Los Angeles seeking damages in excess of $30 million. The case settled after mediation for a substantial figure.
- Susman Godfrey represented three senior executives against Cambrian Capital Partners, a mezzanine finance venture owned by Mirubeni Corp., Dominion Capital, and Jeffries & Co. After a one-week trial, the executives succeeded on their claim that Cambrian had breached their equity participation agreement. They were awarded more than $3 million, $2.4 million net to the client.
- Susman Godfrey represented a major investment management firm accused of the wrongful termination of an employment contract that triggered a stock buy-back at an artificially low price. The amount in controversy exceeded $100 million. Susman Godfrey settled the case on terms favorable to the employer.
- Susman Godfrey represented David Siegel, former president of Budget Group Inc., the car rental company. Siegel brought claims against Budget for breach of contract, and Budget made claims against Siegel. Siegel prevailed after a one week trial and was awarded $5.7 million. All of Budget’s claims against Siegel were rejected.
- Susman Godfrey represented engineering firm Stone & Webster in a dispute with a former executive over golden parachute benefits. The case settled before trial on terms favorable to Stone & Webster.
- Susman Godfrey represented John Dalton, who had been fired as president of World Port, Inc., in claims against his former employer. On the first day of trial, WorldPort agreed to give Dalton stock worth $7.2 million in settlement of his claims.
- Susman Godfrey represented Elizabeth Miller, a founder of Big Ball Sports, an apparel company. After being fired, Miller sued the company and its other co-founders for shareholder oppression and breach of fiduciary duty. After a three- week trial in Houston, the jury found for Miller on all of her claims and valued her interest in the business at $3.3 million, which the judge then ordered the company to pay her for her stock.
- Susman Godfrey represented Jonathan Carroll, former president of Enserch Energy Services Inc., in a breach of contract case stemming from Enserch’s firing of Carroll. After a five-day trial, Carroll won on all issues and received $5.9 million from Enserch.
- Susman Godfrey represented Dan Pena, who had been fired as president of Great Western Resources, in claims against his former employer. When Pena sued for breach of contract, Great Western sued him for breach of fiduciary duty. After a three-week trial in Houston, the jury found that Great Western had breached Pena’s contract, rejected all of Great Western’s claims against Pena, and awarded him $3.1 million.