Professional Defamation Case Study: Resigned CFO v. Executives

professional defamation
A professional defamation case study

Walgreen Co.’s former Chief Financial Officer, Wade Miquelon, filed a libel lawsuit against the pharmacy conglomerate. Miquelon insists that both Walgreen’s CEO and the company’s top shareholder illegally besmirched his character via a pair of Wall Street Journal articles and a handful of emails.

We know we’re behind “breaking” on this case, but since our firm focuses on professional defamation litigation, for blogging purposes, we wanted to take a close look at the lawsuit. Specifically, we want to consider the question: Can Miquelon win?

Professional Defamation Case Study: Walgreen’s CFO v. Walgreen’s

Things Were Already Tense At The Office

According to Miquelon, the seed of this professional defamation saga took root last year. At the time a beleaguered entity, Walgreen was stuck between a tax-inversion inconvenience and activist investors. Then a bad 2013 morphed into a worse 2014, when a $1 billion mistake stained the company’s August financial disclosure.

CFO Says, “See Ya”

In the midst of the turmoil, Walgreen’s CFO – Wade Miquelon – resigned. He cited family and further opportunities as reasons for departure. But the financial books were less-than-ideal, and the search was on for a scapegoat. To some people, it seemed like Miquelon’s leaving provided a convenient, public fall guy for extant Walgreen executives.

Executives’ Disparaging Comments Published In The WSJ

Cue a pair of Wall Street Journal articles wherein Walgreen CEO, Gregory Wasson, and the company’s largest shareholder, Stefano Pessina, are quoted as holding Miquelon “personally responsible” for the corporation’s $1 billion mistake.

Additionally, at least according to Miquelon’s lawsuit, Walgreen executives were also regaling investors with disparaging tales of ex-CFO Miquelon during this same period.

Frustrated by the finger pointing – and worried it might affect future employment opportunities – Miquelon filed a defamation of character lawsuit against Walgreen Co. – specifically Wasson and Pessina.

Miquelon’s Business-Related Defamation of Character Lawsuit Claims: Truth & Financial Disclosures

Miquelon swears he warned Walgreen brass of impending financial disquiet. He says he urged them to “publicly report the truth.” Miquelon also suggests that Wesson and Pessina counselled him to “tamper with the earnings forecast.”

The lawsuit also highlights instances wherein Wasson and Pessina allegedly implicated or insinuated Miquelon as the cause of Walgreen’s “bungled” bottom line. And to bolster his defamation argument, Miquelon included emails, text messages and corporate documents wherein Wasson and Pessina praised his competence.

What Miquelon Must Prove To Win This Professional Defamation Lawsuit

To win a defamation lawsuit in the U.S., plaintiffs must prove at least the following:

  • The defendant made a false, unprivileged statement of fact about the plaintiff;
  • The statement caused either reputational or material harm to the plaintiff; and
  • The defendant acted either negligently or with actual malice.

To wit, in this case, Miquelon must prove:

  • He was not responsible for Walgreen’s financial predicament. He’s already started building this argument by including praising messages from Wesson and Pessina in his filing. But in order to win, Miquelon needs more.
  • As for proving harm or loss, Miquelon’s lawyer elaborated:

“The unanswered articles have had the inevitable negative impact on Miquelon…Miquelon has gone from being a 49-year-old former CFO of a Fortune 30 company … who had Chief Operating Officer … and CFO opportunities in the marketplace, to being a man with no such options and no recourse other than this lawsuit.”

Can Walgreen Co. Get The Records Sealed To Prevent Proceedings From Affecting Current Business Deals?

When Miquelon’s lawsuit landed, Walgreen attorneys quickly moved to get the proceedings sealed. Unfortunately for the corporation, the judge didn’t grant the request right away, instead opting to delay a decision until November 6th in order to carefully consider the motion. [UPDATE: Walgreen did get the gag order at the beginning of November.]

It’s still anybody’s guess who will win this professional defamation lawsuit. It’s a case that will stand or fall on the strength of lawyers’ arguments. If it gets past the first set of dismissal motions, discovery will undoubtedly play a significant role in this suit.

The case is Miquelon v. Walgreen Co., 14-ch-16825, Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court

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