Court Allows Attorney To Pursue Wrongful Discharge Claims

July 14, 2003 ( - The former general counsel for Stolt-Nielsen Transportation Group Ltd. has been allowed to sue for wrongful discharge after the company said such action would compromise its attorney-client privilege.

>Connecticut Superior Judge Taggart Adams agreed that Paul O’Brien’s case against the Greenwich, Connecticut -based liquid shipping line should be heard after the attorney claimed that ongoing criminal activity by executives at the company made it impossible for him to do his job as its top inside lawyer.   O’Brien said this corporate malfeasance forced him out in March 2002, according to a report by The Connecticut Law Tribune.

The company contended that, if O’Brien were allowed to sue, the foundation of lawyer-client trust
would be irreparably damaged.   Furthermore, it argued O’Brien could not possibly make his case without violating attorney-client privilege.

Adams dubbed the arguments logical but premature. Exactly what ethical obligations apply to O’Brien must be established closer to trial, Adams decided.

In the first case of its kind, Adams granted the company’s motion to strike two of O’Brien’s five counts seeking release from confidentiality obligations.   However, allowed to continue were O’Brien’s allegations of constructive discharge, breach of contract and tortious interference with a business expectation.

The tortious interference count is brought against Samuel Cooperman, chairman of the board of directors. The wrongful discharge and breach of contract counts are lodged against Stolt-Nielsen Transportation Group, which is organized under Liberian law and part of the London-headquartered Stolt-Nielsen SA. The parent company reported $2.7 billion in sales in 2001.