Walter Huizenga says AIADA fired him without cause.
A federal court in Virginia is scheduled to take up a suit this month that Walter Huizenga filed last year against the American International Automobile Dealers Association. Seven current and former AIADA directors and AIADA President Marianne McInerney also are named as defendants.
The suit alleges AIADA fired Huizenga without cause, violating his contract. It alleges age discrimination, fraud, defamation, conspiracy and infliction of emotional distress. And it says AIADA withheld severance payments, pension contributions, deferred compensation and an insurance policy that Huizenga was owed.
AIADA lawyer Frank Northam calls Huizenga's suit "completely without merit."
Employer-employee breakups are common in the auto industry, but this one was unusual. Huizenga and other AIADA executives seemed to agree the group needed to develop a new agenda for its leadership. For example, the free-trade battles AIADA waged had been all but won.
But an influential group of directors finally concluded Huizenga needed to be replaced. He was relieved of most of his duties in mid-2002. He remained on the payroll until his contract expired on March 31, 2003.
Remarks by directors that AIADA needed "new blood" and "a fresh approach" generated the claim of age discrimination. Huizenga was 54 and McInerney was 39 when she was hired early in 2003, the suit says.
The suit does not make a specific request for damages. Huizenga's lawyers, Kevin Rynbrandt and Carl Oosterhouse, say AIADA owes their client well over $1 million. They expect a trial this fall. A pretrial conference is scheduled for May 25.
The suit names only a few current and former AIADA directors as defendants because they "had involvement in the process that resulted in creating this liability," Oosterhouse says.
Those directors include Buzz Rodland of Washington, Don Hicks of Colorado, Bradley Hoffman of Connecticut and Dave Conant and John Hawkins of California. Also included are former directors Jamie Auffenberg of Illinois and Tim Smith of California.
The suit says that since his dismissal, Huizenga has had stress-related health problems and has been unable to find comparable employment. He said in a telephone interview that he has been involved with his wife's dealerships in Michigan and has dabbled in real estate.
AIADA holds its biggest event of the year, its automotive congress, this week in Washington, D.C.
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]