When you see the words whistleblower, lawsuit, federal, investigation and
all close to one another, you know things aren't going great. And guess what, true believers? There does seem to be something going on in the house that Marchionne built.
The whistleblower in question is sales chief and Ram brand boss Reid Bigland, and he's filing suit against FCA because he claims that he's been made a scapegoat over the brand's longtime alleged inflated vehicle sales practices, according to a report published Wednesday by The Detroit News.
Reid Bigland maintains that he inherited FCA's sales figures reporting practices and that he is guilty of no wrongdoing that would land him in the sights of the SEC and FBI.
FCA responded to the suit with a statement.
"We note the lawsuit filed by Reid Bigland. His 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 representatives said in a statement to The Detroit News. "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. Beyond that, it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing litigation or internal compensation processes."
Bigland started at Fiat Chrysler in 2006 as head of the brand's Canadian operations and has since done stints at Alfa Romeo and Maserati and was recently made the head of Ram after former boss Mike Manley succeeded the late Sergio Marchionne as head of FCA.
Bigland alleges that FCA opted to withhold his bonuses and stock, both a part of his compensation plan as an executive and valued at approximately $1.8 million, as retaliation for his cooperation with the investigation.
"[Bigland's] unwillingness to act as a scapegoat for defendants' 30-year practice which predated him, and his candor regarding defendants' knowledge of this practice prior to and during his tenure as head of U.S. caused FCA to retaliate against plaintiff less than two months later by withholding his compensation," Bigland's lawyer said in a statement.
While FCA isn't the only automaker under investigation for alleged false reporting of sales, it is FCA that first piqued the government's interest after two Illinois dealers filed civil racketeering suits over FCA's request that they report unsold vehicles as sold in exchange for $20,000 in incentives.
The government's investigation is ongoing, and Bigland's lawyer has petitioned a judge in Detroit to prevent FCA from action against Bigland. Bigland's lawsuit also seeks a currently unspecified dollar amount in damages.