Palm Beach Post article “Ex-BE official sues over firing.”

by | Jun 3, 2007 | Notables & Events



Ex-BE official sues over firing

By Alexandra Clough
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, June 03, 2007

BE Aerospace Inc. is flying high with record profits, a rising stock price – and fluffy compensation plans to match. Top officials make a planeload of money in the form of salary, bonuses, stock options and perks.

But longtime BE treasurer Jeffrey Holtzman is feeling grounded. Instead of sharing in the riches, he is looking for another job. Holtzman was fired in April after 14 years at this Wellington-based maker of aircraft interiors.

Now Holtzman is suing BE (Nasdaq: BEAV) and his former boss, CFO Thomas P. McCaffrey, claiming they breached Holtzman’s employment agreement and created an “unbearable” work environment. Holtzman’s lawsuit claims McCaffrey was a bully who treated Holtzman so badly Holtzman had to take a leave of absence to recover from a spike in blood pressure. While Holtzman was recovering, the defendants fired him but “pretended he resigned, so they could avoid their financial obligation to him,” said Holtzman’s lawyer, Steven Schwarzberg, of Schwarzberg Spector Duke & Rogers in West Palm Beach.

Let’s face it: The corporate world is rife with tough supervisors. So what’s the big deal over Holtzman’s claim he had a bad boss?

Almost everyone at some point gets a boss who delights in the torture, humiliation and harassment of underlings.

But few people have the dough to go to court, lay bare the dirty laundry and demand payback for treatment they consider abusive. Even fewer are top officials, like Holtzman, with a written employment contract granting them protection from random firings.

Holtzman’s lawsuit comes at an awkward time for high-profile BE and its leaders, still basking in their rank among the highest paid execs in Palm Beach and Martin counties, according to a recent survey by The Palm Beach Post. Number One in total compensation: BE Chairman Amin Khoury, who raked in $15.2 million last year. Number seven: McCaffrey, who reaped compensation of $6.1 million.

Despite all that cash floating around the office, Holtzman says BE was anything but an idyllic place to work. His Palm Beach County Circuit Court lawsuit is stuffed with allegations of Holtzman’s “demeaning” management style, not just with him but with other colleagues, too. For instance, Holtzman claims McCaffrey referred to BE’s controller as “a retarded little brother;” called the general counsel “useless;” and referred to the company’s human resources VP as “the incompetent idiot.”

When Holtzman complained to other execs about how badly he was being treated, his complaints fell on deaf ears, the lawsuit claims. One executive advised Holtzman to “bend over and take it,” even demonstrated “the physical act of doing so,” court papers said.

Schwarzberg, who normally defends companies against lawsuits filed by employees, said he took this case because “we were outraged by Holtzman’s gross mistreatment.”

Looks like BE officials are outraged by Holtzman’s allegations.

In an unusual move, BE deviated from its typical “no comment” policy on lawsuits. “I have been authorized to say the company and Mr. McCaffrey vehemently deny all allegations and we intend to vigorously defend the suit,” said Michele Stocker, an attorney for BE and McCaffrey.

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