Whatever reasons Walt Disney thought they had to fire Michael Ovitz, they were not good enough to send him away without $140m in severance, the Delaware chancery court heard on Friday.
John Fox, an employment lawyer from California, said none of the former group president’s failings during his brief stint at Disney in the mid-1990s rose to the level of the gross negligence or malfeasance stipulated in his contract if he were to be sacked summarily.
Mr Fox was testifying for the former company board that stands accused by shareholders of neglecting its duty in hiring and firing the one-time talent agent on such generous terms.
He agreed with Larry Feldman, who gave evidence earlier on behalf of Mr Ovitz, saying Disney had taken the prudent course.
A “for cause” dismissal would have landed Disney with a “very serious and ugly lawsuit for fraud, defamation and wrongful dismissal”, Mr Feldman said, and would have cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.
Mr Feldman is a seasoned campaigner in Hollywood employment cases, with a reputation for winning substantial damages for aggrieved entertainment industry executives.