What a relief to see a last-minute truce in the legal jihad between Canada’s richest woman, Sherry Brydson, and her former money man, CFL and Woodbine Entertainment supremo James Lawson.
Their respective lawsuits, settled just ahead of trial Monday, had been a reliable source of unseemly allegations with no place in a family publication —- most especially not a Thomson family publication!
Sherry, cousin to David Thomson, 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, is worth an estimated $6.6 billion. She owns a 23 per cent stake in Woodbridge, the Thomson family holding company that owns the Globe and Minion, which was more that enough to command a decorous silence from Canada’s Notional Newspaper™, even as competitors swarmed the heiress’ dirty laundry. (The hacks’ glee oft outstripped their accuracy; Toronto Star typist Rosie DiManno erroneously identified the publicity-shy Brydson in a Sept. 19 space-filler as Ken Thomson‘s granddaughter, rather than his niece).
Brydson sacked Lawson as CEO of her family company, Westerkirk Capital, Inc., which sucks up $80 million in dividends from Woodbridge and helps keep the Thomson family jewels safe from the depredations of CRA, in November 2012.
Lawson promptly paid himself $4.9 million in severance and then dropped a $24-million wrongful dismissal suit, alleging he’d been toasted for trying to clean up the family finances and stop Sherry from pissing away her legacy on extravagances, like the $87-million she decided to blow on a private jet in 2009.
Brydson hit back with a $14-million counterclaim and an endless litany of counter-accusations, painting Lawson as a grifter who’d taken unconscionable advantage of the unsuspecting billionairess and her unsuspecting billions.
“She was previously a journalist and is a wife and the mother of three children,” pled Sherry’s coruscating legalist Howard Levitt (Levitt & Grosman LLP). She has no legal training. She required the advice and assistance of a scrupulously honest and capable CEO to manage the assets of Westerkirk. The fact that Lawson is a lawyer, with the appurtenant obligations provided Brydson with comfort that he would live up to this standard. Instead, Lawson serially took advantage of her through a pattern of dishonesty and self-dealing.”
Lawson’s alleged crimes included using his position to effectively write his own juicy compensation ticket, and pushing a quickie sale by Westerkirk of the Strathcona Mall in Calgary against the company’s interests solely so he could collect a $759,691 bonus and use the cash to pick up a mansion in Vero Beach, Fla.
Brydson further claimed that Lawson’s family did passing well from the family firm, his wife Susan as sole director of SBL Holdings, which profited from a Westerkirk-connected land deal in Oakville and other adventures, and his daughter Brodie, who sold her condo to Westerkirk for $1.5M, a sum Sherry alleged exceeded its market value by some 40 per cent.
The lovely and talented Brodie, who now works, like pater, at the CFL (she’s a “video content coordinator”), also scored a marketing internship at the Globe and Minion in 2010, entirely on her own merits. So it came as a shock when Brydson alleged (pas possible!) nepotism:
“Lawson used his connections and influence during working hours to secure an internship for his daughter at the Globe and Mail, which is related to Westerkirk, without disclosure, in part by emphasizing a large charitable donation which Westerkirk had made which the Globe’s then Publisher was supportive of.”
Throughout it all, Sherry complained, Lawson lacked utterly the deference and respect one expects from a loyal family retainer, “disparaging her as ‘crazy’ to Brydson’s business associates… ridiculing various family members as irresponsible, ‘clueless’, stupid and lazy to colleagues, subordinates and third parties…telling an associate of Westerkirk, that ‘Brydson is a lost cause and we have to forget about her and move on to the kids’, and alleging that he was forced to clean up Sherry’s messes and deal with her ‘vanity investments.'”
And then there were the Woodbridge horse-fancier’s alleged extracurricular activities:
“Lawson, despite enacting anti-pornography policies for Westerkirk subsidiaries: (i) utilized his office to indulge himself in graphic, hard-core racist and misogynistic pornography, as well as pornography graphically depicting sexual activities between humans and animals; and (ii) distributed some pornography to other persons, including to certain of his subordinates. This constituted willful and serious misconduct, demonstrated terrible judgment as a senior manager, made Lawson as CEO a dreadful role-model of workplace conduct to other Westerkirk managers and employees, poisoned the workplace environment, and recklessly endangered the Defendant’s reputation. As well, some of the pornography used by Lawson in the workplace was of such a degrading, dehumanizing and harmful nature as to likely be criminally obscene withing the meaning of s. 163 (8) of the Criminal Code of Canada, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-43 (as am.), thereby deepening the seriousness of the potential harm to Westerkirk’s reputation, deepening the seriousness of the poisoning of the work environment, and by itself constituting legal cause to dismiss Lawson. Further, Lawson’s workplace use and distribution of pornography violated the Ontario Human Rights Code, which, given his position as CEO, thereby irresponsibly exposed Westerkirk to the realistic risk of a human-rights complaint and liability to other employees, which by itself constituted legal cause to dismiss Lawson.”
That would have all been too much for our Sherry, after a lifetime spent in the service of wimmins’ issues, founder of the Elmwood spa and old girls’ networking club and faithful supporter of the YWCA. The committed limousine feminist joined the 1970 Abortion Caravan from Victoria to Ottawa, where she and fellow activists proceeded to chain themselves to seats in the House of Commons.
Brydson and her sisters-in-arms won approving notice from a young Mila Pivnicki, who had yet to drop out of engineering at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) to marry legaliste/pisse artiste Byron Muldoon. As she wrote in student paper The Georgian September 4, 1971:
“If you become pregnant within the next year, you can expect to have a few hassles. On the other hand, you might be lucky. You might find out about your pregnancy in time to work out the difficulties of getting admitted to a hospital. or you might have understanding, well-off parents.
“In Montreal, to speak English is an advantage, not only in tracking down an abortion here, but in contacting abortion referral agencies in New York.
“Abortion must be legalized. Much has been said about that in the last two years. Women have written, spoken, demonstrated, even chained themselves to seats on the House of Commons to get the issue across to the public.”
Happily, Mila ultimately decided coat hangers were for couture, and chose to gift Byron and a grateful nation with Ben, Caroline, Mark and Nicholas. Every Tory candidate for York Simcoe a wanted Tory candidate for York Simcoe!
But je digresse. The porno question came up in discovery last year, as noted by his legalist Paul Steep (McCarthy Tetrault):
“Mr. Lawson admitted receiving some emails containing inappropriate images and admitting to having transmitted a small number of those emails to others at Westerkirk. Mr. Lawson acknowledged that it was not appropriate for him to have transmitted these images to others.
“During the course of this questioning, Mr. Levitt produced an email that Mr. Lawson had received that included a digital video attachment. Mr. Lawson acknowledged that he received the message from a friend on a hockey team and that he had forwarded it, without comment, to a male colleague at Westerkirk.”
“The Lawson Discovery ended when Mr. Levitt then proposed to screen the digital video attachment and question Mr. Lawson about its contents.”
“On the basis of his discussions with Mr. Levitt, both on and off record, Mr. Steep understood that Mr. Levitt intended to have Mr. Lawson describe the contents of the images…”
Sadly, chances for a courthouse screening and play-by-play of the mysterious video evaporated when the combatants settled Sept 18 and Lawson officially grovelled.
“Mr. Lawson has apologized unreservedly to Ms. Brydson for the circumstances that led to his departure from Westerkirk,” quoth the release, which discreetly and properly omitted any dollar figures involved. “Mr. Lawson has also unequivocally withdrawn all prior allegations made made by him involving Ms. Brydson, her family, employees and advisors in the legal proceedings and otherwise.”
From Brydson, no doubt relieved to have the indecorous contretemps behind her, only silence (gone to see a man about a horse, shurely?!–ed.)