Courts

FPL’s parent company sues former exec who sent critical letter

 

NextEra Energy says a former vice president, Jeff Bartel, falsely accused other officers of fraud and other improprieties, and wants the former exec to return his severance package. But Bartel is standing by his criticism of the company.

ejester@MiamiHerald.com

Florida Power & Light’s parent company is suing a former top executive, who had anonymously accused company officials of fraud, for the amount of his severance package.

In 2010 and 2011, NextEra Energy received several anonymous letters claiming top officers had committed fraud and other improprieties, NextEra president and CEO Jim Robo wrote company officers in a letter dated Tuesday.

Multiple investigations, including one by an outside law firm, found all of the claims to be false, Robo wrote. The fourth letter, sent from a Kinko’s store on Dec. 8, 2011, accused NextEra’s senior officers of fraudulent and illegal conduct, according to the lawsuit. The company discovered the letter had been sent by Jeffrey Bartel, a former FPL vice president for compliance and corporate Responsibility. Robo’s letter said Bartel admitted to an arbitration board that he had written the letter. The lawsuit said the letter went to several news organizations as well.

The company restructured in 2011, and managers decided to let Bartel go and offered him a severance package. In exchange, the lawsuit filed in Miami said, Bartel was supposed to disclose in writing any concerns he had about NextEra not complying with laws or rules.

Bartel did not disclose anything, although he later said he had information that should’ve been disclosed but was told by NextEra he didn’t have to, according to the lawsuit. The company denied telling Bartel to ignore that part of the severance arrangement.

NextEra had paid Bartel more than $846,000 in severance by the time the company discovered he’d sent one of the anonymous letters. The balance of his severance package was placed in escrow.

Bartel’s lawyer, Ervin Gonzalez, said in a statement Tuesday that his client admitted sending the fourth anonymous letter. But he said Bartel, who lives in Coral Gables, stands by his claims of wrongdoing at FPL, adding that Bartel refused to give the names of other employees who sent disparaging letters.

“FPL offered to not pursue legal proceedings and allow Mr. Bartel to keep his severance provided that Mr. Bartel provide the names of anonymous employees who had also publicly complained of FPL’s bad acts in prior complaint or whistleblower letters that were unattributed,” Gonzalez said in his statement. “Mr. Bartel refused to take part in that.”

“The company is once again prioritizing looking good over doing good,” Gonzalez added.

NextEra’s lawsuit says Bartel breached a non-disparagement clause in his severance agreement and misrepresented himself to induce the company to offer him a severance agreement. Under the terms of the lawsuit, NextEra is demanding that Bartel lose his severance package and be forced to return the money he has already collected.

But Bartel’s lawyer said his client plans to give the severance money back anyway so he can be free from the gag order in the separation agreement.

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