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Former Walgreen CFO files defamation suit accusing company of lying about why he resigned

By Jonathan Bilyk | Oct 20, 2014

The former chief financial officer of Walgreen Co. is suing his former employer for defamation, claiming executives and leading shareholders in America’s largest pharmacy chain have ruined his professional future by lying to investors and the press about why he departed the company in August.

In the seven-count complaint he filed Oct. 16 against Deerfield-based Walgreen, Wade D. Miquelon claims his former employer tried to falsely pin the full blame for its recent financial missteps on him, who he claims was, until his resignation, in line to become the company’s next chief executive.

Miquelon asked the Cook County Circuit Court to issue an injunction preventing representatives of Walgreen from continuing to make disparaging remarks about his service during his six years with the company and strongly implying he was forced out of his position because investors and executives held him “personally responsible” for a $1.1 billion error in earnings forecasts.

Miquelon, who also asked the court to declare these statements false and award him damages of more than $50,000, is being represented by Nathan E. Hoffman of Dechert LLP in Chicago; David Bernick, Michael J. Gilbert and Gordon Sung of Dechert in New York; and Laurence H. Levine of the Laurence H. Levine Law Offices in Chicago.

The case follows several articles published in the Wall Street Journal in August and September, which amplified disparaging remarks about Miquelon’s performance at Walgreen Co. allegedly delivered by the company's CEO Gregory Wasson and billionaire investor Stefano Pessina in conversations with other investors following Miquelon’s resignation as CFO in early August.

Miquelon, 49, who had been with Walgreen since 2008, said from the time he arrived to his departure, to his knowledge, Wasson and others in leadership at Walgreen had considered his performance at the company exemplary.

As the company began the key process of acquiring Alliance Boots, the world’s largest international drugstore chain, and setting the stage for the reorganization of the company to reflect its likely new reality, Miquelon said internal company documents reflect he was placed in charge of overseeing the two-stage acquisition.

In April, Miquelon said Wasson offered him a new position, as “President of Emerging Markets, Ventures and Global Strategy.” According to the complaint, company documents described Miquelon as “uniquely qualified” for the job.

Miquelon asserts Wasson also told him the job would position him to eventually replace Wasson as CEO.

In May, however, Miquelon reportedly declined the offer, saying he did not “view the opportunity as one where he would grow and develop professionally.”

He and Wasson then fashioned a separation agreement, under which Miquelon would stay with Walgreen Co. for 18 more months to oversee the Alliance Boots acquisition.

But, in June, investors grew angry when algreen adjusted its earnings expectations for the next three years, dropping its forecast from $8.5 billion to $7 to $7.5 billion by 2016.

The company at the time said the adjustment came after Walgreen accounted for drug costs inflating faster than had been expected.

Behind the scenes, Miquelon claims he had urged Wasson and Walgreen’s board to adjust the 2016 earnings expectations downward for months, but had been overruled until the reality became too apparent.

Miquelon, according to the suit, also drew ire for opposing the attempted “tax inversion" in shifting its corporate headquarters to Europe to take advantage of lower corporate tax rates overseas. Walgreen opted to forego the inversion and keep its headquarters in Lake County.

During conference calls preceding the announcement, Miquelon alleges that some “activist investors” threatened him, saying they would “stop at nothing to get (him) out of the way, including getting personal dirt … and embarrassing (him) publicly.”

Miquelon contends he was dismayed Wasson did not stick up for him in the call, and then requested to accelerate his departure from the company.

He resigned on Aug. 4, accepting a $3.2 million cash severance and a $1.2 million performance bonus scheduled to be paid later this year.

Following his departure, Miquelon claims Wasson and Pessina went on a “road show” to meet with investors around the U.S., and at those meetings, allegedly blamed Walgreen’s recent moves on him, saying he was “too conservative” and had mismanaged its finances.

The allegations were then picked up by a reporter, who published articles in August and September discussing Miquelon’s alleged “bungling” of the earnings forecasts and implying Miquelon had essentially been fired.

Miquelon asserts in his suit he repeatedly asked Wasson and others at Walgreen to publicly refute the disparaging allegations and the implications surrounding his departure, but those requests were repeatedly denied.

He claims the allegations published in the articles have ravaged his professional future, costing him several promising executive opportunities with other large companies.

“Miquelon has gone from being a 49-year-old former CFO of a Fortune 30 company CEO, 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,” the complaint states.

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