O'Connell will fight firing at MassMutual

Ex-CEO will pursue $10 million in severance

June 24, 2005|By Diane Levick | Diane Levick,THE HARTFORD COURANT

Robert J. O'Connell, whose firing as MassMutual's leader was made final yesterday, will pursue arbitration to fight for a severance package believed to be worth more than $10 million.

The company's board of directors took a final vote yesterday to remove him as chairman, president and chief executive for "a systematic and pervasive pattern" of abusing authority, violating the company's code of conduct, and other "gross misconduct."

O'Connell, who spoke briefly to the board in a closed meeting, told reporters afterward that "virtually every charge they made is unsubstantiated." He said he expects eventually to be vindicated.

O'Connell said he told directors that the process they used to fire him was unfair. "As I said to the board, I have done nothing improper and always discharged my responsibilities at MassMutual in the best interests of the company," he said.

But in announcing its vote, the board cited O'Connell for "willful malfeasance" in improperly inflating his supplemental retirement account more than $30 million - reflected as an obligation in financial statements though not paid out.

Repeating other accusations from its June 2 termination notice, the board alleged O'Connell bought a company-owned Florida condo for less than market price without the board's knowledge. He also interfered in the probe of relatives concerning improper disclosure of confidential information at MassMutual subsidiary Oppenheimer Funds, the board said.

O'Connell's attorney has filed for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association's Boston office, and advised MassMutual in a letter not to alter or destroy any documents or e-mails concerning O'Connell.

O'Connell's bitterness came through in a statement late yesterday by his spokesman, Joe Grillo, who blamed "disgruntled members of management" for a "carefully orchestrated campaign to drive Mr. O'Connell from the company."

O'Connell's lawyers have pointed out that he was fired despite high praise in his 2004 performance evaluation by the board.

But the document also reflects some directors' serious concerns about nepotism and personal use of corporate aircraft. Directors were upset that O'Connell had gotten jobs at MassMutual or its units for his son, son-in-law and daughter without telling the board, Chairman James R. Birle said.

Other issues that led to his firing were more serious and came to the board's attention only earlier this year when some employees came forward, Birle said.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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