Man claims in-laws lured him from job, fired him

April 07, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

A former Navy lieutenant has accused his parents-in-law of luring him to Howard County with a job and then firing him after less than three months.

Wade Burchell claims Harry and Ruth Hearn tricked him into moving from California to Laurel in 1991 to help run their flower business with hopes that their daughter would leave him, according to a suit filed in Howard Circuit Court last month.

Five months after Mr. Burchell stopped working for the business -- Wincopia Farms Inc. -- his wife, Rebecca, left him. She later filed for divorce.

Mr. Burchell, who says he gave up a $43,000-a-year Navy job, wants $2 million in damages.

The Navy had promised to raise his salary and benefits to $72,000 a year once he finished his postgraduate studies, the suit said. Had he continued with the Navy, he would have also received a $72,000 signing bonus, according to the suit.

"He was cajoled by his in-laws to take over the farm," said Mr. Burchell's attorney, Joel Marc Abramson of Columbia. "He has lost all of this potential income."

The Hearns say he's not going to recoup any of it from them.

They never had a contract with Mr. Burchell and did not hire him to try to break up his marriage, said their attorney, Mindy Farber of Rockville. They also say that he voluntarily left his job because of business differences.

"Their point of view is that he quit when he couldn't get what he wanted," Ms. Farber said.

Neither the Hearns nor Mr. Burchell would comment about suit.

Wincopia Farms is a matrix of more than a dozen greenhouses that lie among open fields in the southern corner of Howard County. The farm, which has struggled through the recession, sells plants and flowers to garden centers and florists.

In July 1991, Mr. Burchell and his wife, Rebecca, were living in Monterey, Calif., where he was studying at the Naval Postgraduate School. The Hearns came to visit. They offered him a $30,000-a-year job for five years with profit sharing, the suit says.

The Hearns remember it differently. They say they negotiated, jotted down notes, but never drew up a formal contract, according to Ms. Farber.

"There was a lot of talk and discussion," said Ms. Farber, but "all they have is some writings from California. Obviously if you don't have a contract, an employee is subject to dismissal."

Mr. Burchell left the Navy and drove out from California. He set up a recreational vehicle with his wife and daughter on the Hearns' property and began work on Oct. 9, 1991.

Much of his job involved loading trucks and making deliveries. But he and the Hearns disagreed about how to run the business and on Dec. 23 Mrs. Hearn fired him, according to the suit.

Mr. Burchell left and moved to New Jersey with his wife and daughter. Mrs. Burchell separated from him in April 1992, and now lives in College Park.

Mr. Burchell, 31, lives in Alexandria and works for a financial security company in McLean, Va.

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