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Wheatley loses "unfair dismissal" case against Emerson

01 October, 1999

Wheatley loses "unfair dismissal" case against Emerson


Focus Dynamics chairman Trevor Wheatley has lost his High Court case in which he accused his former employer, Emerson Electric, of dismissing him unfairly. In a judgement delivered last week, Mrs Justice Ebsworth rejected Wheatley`s complaint that he was wrongfully dismissed as an executive of Emerson`s subsidiary, Control Techniques, and agreed with Emerson that it was entitled to dismiss the former CT chairman on the grounds of misconduct.

The judge also awarded costs against Wheatley. These could amount to several hundred thousand pounds.

Wheatley had been claiming around £9m in damages following his dismissal in May 1997. Emerson argued that it had been justified in firing him following "a verbal attack" on other Control Techniques board members. The judge ruled that Wheatley had behaved "quite unacceptably" in the days preceding his dismissal.

She also found that his actions in establishing another business while still employed by Control Techniques amounted to a breach of his obligation to devote his full time and attention to his employer`s business. His encouragement of another employee to participate in this new business represented "an abuse of his position as a very senior and trusted executive," the judge found.

Mrs Justice Ebsworth rejected Wheatley`s contention that he had been a victim of a conspiracy by other Emerson and Control Techniques executives. Any conspiracy to force him out of the company was, the judge said, "without foundation in fact" and was "constructed in [Wheatley`s] mind after the event". She also accused Wheatley of "grossly inflating" the size of his damages claim.

Wheatley told Drives & Controls that he was "disappointed" with the verdict. He said that his legal advisers believed that there were several potential grounds for appeal but he was still consulting with them over whether to lodge an appeal.

In a statement following the verdict, Control Techniques president Pierre Sarre said he was "gratified with the Court`s total vindication of our position". He said that CT staff had been "loyal and patient" during what he called "this unpleasant episode".

The two-week hearing, during July, followed a trial last year in which the High Court granted Control Techniques an injunction preventing Wheatley from breaching the terms of an agreement not to compete with CT that he entered when he sold his CT shares to Emerson in 1995.

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