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Suits fly as LeMond Composites fires its CEO

Published January 20, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS (BRAIN) — Greg LeMond's company has fired and is suing Connie Jackson, the CEO of LeMond Composites, which was formed last year to manufacture low-cost carbon fiber primarily for non-bicycle applications. 

LeMond Companies LLC alleges that Jackson violated terms of her employment agreement, before and after her termination. Jackson was also a minority shareholder in the company and was co-inventor of the manufacturing process that is at the heart of the company's strategy. 

Jackson was fired Dec. 9. She and her husband filed suit against LeMond this month in Tennessee, seeking damages and reimbursements totaling more than $2 million. She also wants the court to nullify her non-compete agreement with the company, which she claims she was fraudulently induced to sign. 

Jackson is listed as a co-inventor on the patent application for a carbon fiber manufacturing process developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, where she worked until last spring. LeMond Composites licenses the technology from UT-Battelle, the company that operates ORNL.

LeMond opened the 65,000-square-foot factory with some local fanfare last October, saying it would employ more than 200 people. In an interview with BRAIN last September, LeMond said the manufacturing technology would be ideal for bicycles but that he was initially focusing his resources on the much larger applications in the auto and wind power industries. At the time, LeMond said he was excited to be working with Jackson. "We think alike, I think she is a real innovator,” he said.

In a statement released by his attorney Friday, Greg LeMond indicated that LeMond Composites will move ahead without Jackson.

"The focus of LeMond Companies and its skilled team of engineers — with the full backing and technical assistance of Oak Ridge National Laboratory — is to bring low-cost carbon fiber manufacturing technology to the market as soon as possible," the statement said.

His attorney, Lawrence M. Shapiro of Minneapolis law firm Greene Espel, said, "LeMond Companies is confident it will prevail in the litigation." He said the company would have no other public comments outside of the litigation.

LeMond's suit, filed in Minneapolis, charges that Jackson failed to document and share confidential production techniques that she possessed, as she agreed to when the company was formed. Since her termination, the suit alleges, she has reached out to LeMond investors and tried to hire away at least one of LeMond's engineers for a new company. Both actions are in violation of an employment agreement Jackson signed in October, according to the suit.

LeMond wants the court to issue an injunction preventing her from continuing to violate the agreement. LeMond also is seeking damages of "at least $50,000," which is the most a plaintiff can ask for in a public complaint under Minnesota law.

Jackson could not be reached Friday for a response to LeMond's suit. Her side needs to file a response to the complaint with the court next week.

Jackson's suit was filed this month in Tennessee, with her husband, Jeffrey Jackson, as a co-plaintiff. The defendants are LeMond Companies, LeMond Composites, Greg LeMond, LeMond Composites COO Nicolas Wegener, and LeMond executive Alex Jacome.

The suit charges that Jeffrey Jackson was never paid for $50,000 of work he did last year at the new LeMond Composites factory in Oak Ridge.

It also charges that Greg LeMond misused company funds by, for example, allegedly paying to send LeMond's family to last year's Tour de France. The suit charges that LeMond did not have board approval to sign a contract of more than $60,000 a month with a marketing company. It charges that Jacome secretly recorded a conversation she had with a potential client in November, in violation of the federal Wiretapping Act.

The suit also says she is owed an $80,000 signing bonus and a severance package of a year's salary, $300,000, for being fired without just cause. She is also seeking damages of at least $1 million for breaches of fiduciary duty and of at least $600,000 for wrongful removal and additional damages for the alleged wiretapping.

The crux of the complaint is the October employment agreement she wants nullified. The suit alleges that she was fraudulently pressured into signing the agreement by Wegener, who she says told her she needed to sign it quickly, with no time for legal review, because a potential investor was demanding it. The investor never materialized, the suit says, and it charges that LeMond was already planning on terminating Jackson before she was asked to sign the agreement.

The agreement bars her from working in the composites industry for three years after leaving LeMond. 

LeMond's side has not yet filed a legal response to the complaint.

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