Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the automaker Wednesday, claiming he has been a scapegoat for the company's sales practices being probed by federal officials.
In the suit, Bigland claims the company has retaliated against him for cooperating with an Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and slashed his pay by about 90 percent, starting in March. FCA executives plan to use his withheld compensation to pay any penalties or settlements reached with the SEC, according to the lawsuit filed in Michigan's Oakland County Circuit Court.
The automaker's actions will cost Bigland about $1.8 million, the lawsuit said.
Bigland, according to the suit, says he has cooperated with the SEC investigation, testifying "at length" about Fiat Chrysler's U.S. sales reporting practices, which he said long predated his appointment as U.S. sales chief in 2011, according to the lawsuit.
"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," Deborah Gordon, Bigland's lawyer, wrote in the lawsuit. "The SEC also suggested a resolution involving some penalty to FCA. Because (Bigland) had not engaged in any wrongdoing, and there was no wrongdoing, he declined to do so."
In July 2016, FCA voluntarily changed the way it reports U.S. monthly sales and restated results for the previous five years to reflect the new methodology. The lawsuit says Bigland was excluded from the process of devising a new monthly sales reporting methodology, and was only advised that FCA was considering different methods to adopt.
The SEC has been investigating the company's sales reporting practices before the company changed them.
Fiat Chrysler said long-term incentive payouts are made at the discretion of a board committee.
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," FCA said in a statement. "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."
The company said further it would be "inappropriate to comment on ongoing litigation or internal compensation processes."
According to Gordon, Bigland remains employed by the company.
Bigland’s participation in the SEC investigation, including a “white paper” he wrote detailing his knowledge of the automaker’s sales reporting methodology, has sparked retaliation from the company, Gordon said.
She described FCA’s decision to withhold a portion of his compensation as an “unusual situation” because of Bigland’s “excellent” performance that the lawsuit aims to reconcile.
“We’re hoping my client will receive the compensation he has earned and then some,” Gordon told Automotive News Wednesday. “It appears my client is being retaliated against.”