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Top Auto Executive Files Lawsuit Against His Own Company

Lawsuit / Comments

This isn't something that happens very often.

As we've reported in the past, the US government has been investigating Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for some time now over its sales reporting methodology. In short, there's suspected fraud and FCA has since changed how it conducts these reports. However, one of the automaker's top sales executives has now filed a whistleblower lawsuit against his own employer.

According to The Detroit News, Reid Bigland, who currently oversees the Ram truck brand claims FCA has retaliated against him for cooperating with federal investigators and has punished him by slashing his pay by more than 90 percent. In his lawsuit, Bigland alleges FCA intends to use the money it saved by not paying him to pay fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Bigland seeks $1.8 million in damages.

His lawyer wrote in the lawsuit that "In late 2018, presumably as a way to wrap up their investigation with some result, the SEC suggested to plaintiff that he admit to some wrongdoing as to defendants' monthly sales reporting. Because (Bigland) had not engaged in any wrongdoing, and there was no wrongdoing, he declined to do so."

What Bigland did do, however, probably didn't make FCA very happy. He wrote a letter to investigators detailing the company's sales reporting practices that he claims he inherited from predecessors. What's more, those sales practices were no secret throughout the company. Once he sent the letter, the retaliation got underway. His "unwillingness to act as a scapegoat for defendants' 30-year practice which predated him, and his candor regarding defendants' knowledge of this practice prior to and during his tenure as head of U.S. caused FCA to retaliate against plaintiff less than two months later by withholding his compensation," his attorney added.

FCA responded to The Detroit News with the following statement: "(Bigland's) eligibility for incentive compensation - like that of all corporate officers - is subject to a determination by the Board of Directors' compensation committee that he has satisfied the applicable company and personal performance conditions. Mr. Bigland's eligibility for his award remains subject to that determination and completion of a Board-level evaluation of issues that are the subject to governmental investigations (as previously disclosed by FCA) in which FCA continues to cooperate. Beyond that, it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing litigation or internal compensation processes."

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Reid Bigland joined the automaker in 2006 and has held a number of top executive positions over the years, including stints as the head of the Dodge, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati brands. The investigations into FCA's sales practices began two years ago when the state of Illinois filed a civil racketeering lawsuit where it alleged the automaker offered dealerships money to report unsold vehicles as sold.