Former Dairygold chief looks for €8m in damages
Counsel says client’s employment terminated for ‘spurious’ reasons related to monies owed
Jerry Henchy, former chief executive of Dairygold, pictured arriving at the Four Courts today. Photograph: Collins Courts
The employment of former Dairygold chief executive Jerry Henchy was wrongfully terminated for “spurious” reasons unrelated to how he did his job after an orchestrated campaign involving the company’s chairman Vincent Buckley and others, it has been claimed at the High Court.
The “last place on earth” Mr Henchy would get a fair hearing was from the board of Dairygold, many of whose members were objectively or, in the case of Mr Buckley and Bertie O’Leary, subjectively biased against him, his counsel Patrick Hanratty SC said.
Mr Henchy is claiming some €8 million in damages, including for alleged defamation, and contends what happened to him involved “a travesty of fair procedures” which “gratuitously destroyed” his reputation and left him unemployable.
The 48-year-old businessman, a father of three from Kilmallock, Co Limerick, has not worked since his €560,000-a-year job was terminated in early 2009.
Opening his action against Dairygold, Mr Hanratty said his client’s employment was terminated for “spurious” reasons which purported to relate to monies owed on his personal farm account with Dairygold. Mr Henchy contended that was not the real reason, but was one “suddenly” seized upon by Mr Buckley in January 2009.
Counsel said the matter had to be addressed in the context of Mr Henchy’s overall relations with various members of the board and various developments within the Dairygold group. It also had to be seen in the context of Mr Henchy’s moves to address possible conflicts between some individuals being members of both the Dairygold Board and the board of its associated company, Reox Holdings plc.
Mr Henchy had clashed with “conflicted” board members who refused to sign a code of conduct intended to ensure proper corporate governance and stop confidential information “leaking like a sieve”, Mr Hanratty said. After Mr Henchy privately voiced cocerns to another board member about Mr Buckley not having signed the code when Mr Buckley was seeking to be elected chairman, those concerns were made known to Mr Buckley, who in a statement to the board described them as “outrageous”.
Other major “bones of contention” included the sale of spin-off company, Breeo, and farmers concerns about Dairygold’s internal milk testing system. Mr Henchy had opposed as unworkable proposals by Mr O’Leary to have the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society do the testing, and proposed the system be outsourced to an independent company.
Mr Henchy also had to deal with factional interests on the board and his plan to have Dairygold exit from pig production was vigorously opposed by Patrick O’Keeffe, a large pig farmer from Cork, whose father Ned O’Keeffe called for Mr Henchy’s resignation, counsel said.
When Mr Henchy was given four days in January 2009 to clear the €159,000 balance on his personal trading account with Dairygold, he had no idea his employment was on the line, counsel said. That account was never previously an issue, but Mr Henchy was suddenly told Mr Buckley was making “a big issue” of it. Mr Henchy would also argue a question raised at the Dairygold agm in May 2008 about a large balance on a farm account was by “a plant”.