DETROIT -- Martin Leach is free to search for work with an automaker.
U.S. District Judge Paul Borman sided with Leach in a court battle between the former head of Ford of Europe and his former employer.
In a ruling issued Jan. 16, Borman granted a preliminary injunction barring Ford Motor Co. from enforcing a noncompete clause in Leachs employment contract.
I am very pleased that this judgment will now allow me the option of working in the industry I love and have worked in all my professional life, Leach said in a prepared statement. After giving 28 years of dedicated service to Ford Motor Co., I am very sad that it ended this way.
A Ford spokesman said without elaborating that the automaker is reviewing the decision.
Leach, who left Ford last August, claimed he was fired after he tried to negotiate a mutually satisfying departure with Ford. The firing nullified the contract clause barring him from working for another automaker for two years after leaving Ford, he claimed.
Ford claimed Leach quit his job to take the CEO post at Fiat Auto. But even if it were determined that Leach had been fired, Ford asked the court to enforce the noncompete agreement. Ford said it would be inevitable that Leach would disclose the automakers trade secrets to his new employer.
Fiat withdrew its $2 million-plus job offer to Leach in September after Ford said it would enforce the noncompete agreement. Leach sued Ford in November, and a preliminary hearing was conducted Dec. 18 and 19 at U.S. District Court in Detroit.
In his ruling, Judge Borman said logic and the evidence presented convinced him that Leach did not quit.
An individual does not abandon a hugely financially rewarding job in his profession of choice to become unemployed, Borman wrote.
Borman went on to write: It would have made no sense for Leach to quit, thereby activating the noncompete clause, whereby he would not have been able to gain employment from Fiat or any other OEM.
Several points of evidence support Leachs claim, the judge said.
Bormans ruling on the preliminary injunction does not end the case. A request for permanent injunction remains active, as does Leachs claim for monetary damages. That claim exceeds $75,000, according to court documents.
A trial will be scheduled if Leach and Ford do not reach a settlement.