Former Exec Sues Apple over Termination

By Daniel Drew Turner  |  Posted 2005-03-02

Former Exec Sues Apple over Termination

Lawyers for Tim Bucher, a former vice president at Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Computer Inc., have filed a complaint for damages against the computer maker in the Superior Court of Santa Clara County, California.

The complaint details five causes of action regarding Buchers dismissal from the company and asks for compensatory and punitive damages.

Bucher was hired by Apple in early 2003 as its vice president of Macintosh Systems Development, where in addition to his salary, Bucher received bonuses and options of 250,000 shares of Apple common stock.

One-quarter of Buchers options were to vest on April 1, 2004, with 6.25 percent of the original amount vesting every three months until April 1, 2007.

Also, a new executive bonus plan made Bucher eligible for more bonus payments on a quarterly basis, and in February 2004, Apple granted Bucher the option to buy an additional 75,000 shares at a reduced price, with a vesting plan through 2008.

In May 2004, Bucher assumed the duties of heading up Apples Macintosh Hardware Engineering department. He retained his previous position while leading a search for his replacement.

As Bucher moved to new position, Apple awarded him 100,000 restricted shares of company stock and later, a raise, along with enrollment in the 2005 executive bonus plan.

However, according to the complaint, Apple executives, including company CEO Steve Jobs, began talking to Bucher in November 2004 about Buchers employment status.

Read more here about Apple facing a class-action lawsuit for alleged unlawful business practices, breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets.

The complaint states that Jobs and others complemented Buchers work, yet told him "a change is coming."

The complaint states that Bucher was told on Nov. 14, 2004, that his employment would be terminated if he did not resign, and that Bucher received a termination notice from the company on Jan. 4, 2005.

Throughout the complaint, various Apple executives are quoted as telling Bucher that he should seek psychological counseling, with the implication that his termination was, in part, predicated on his mental state.

This is the basis on which the complaint builds its case for six causes of action.

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Building a case

The first two causes claim that Apple is in breach of contract with Bucher, in that Apple did not accelerate the vesting of Buchers options, which lawyers claim should contractually take place in all terminations not for cause, and that Apple did not pay Bucher according to the 2005 executive bonus plan.

The third cause states that Apple is in breach of good faith and fair dealing by back-dating Buchers dismissal to Dec. 31, 2004, invalidating his eligibility for the 2005 bonus plan.

The fourth and fifth causes cite labor code, stating that companies cannot terminate an employee on the basis of real or perceived disability, including mental disabilities.

Many of the quotes of Apple executives in the complaint present them as characterizing Bucher with general emotional malaise and, in particular, a manic-depressive personality.

In January, Bucher filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, stating that Apple discriminated against him on this basis; the department issued a Right-to-Sure Notice to Bucher in response.

The sixth and final cause claims that Apple is in violation of labor code, in that it failed and refused to pay Buchers final wages, including stock options, restricted stock and bonus.

Click here to read more about Mac-centric news and rumor site Think Secret retaining a lawyer for its defense against a lawsuit by Apple.

Most of these issues revolve around whether Buchers termination was "for cause," that is, for a legally viable reason.

The complaint claims that Apple executives based their decision on the perceived state of Buchers mental health, which, in both Buchers employment contract and by law, is not a legal cause.

The total value of restricted shares, options and back pay enumerated by the complaint could total more than $9 million.

Apple representatives could not be reached for comment.

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