Saturday, January 20, 2018
Business

Former Lincare CIO sues company for wrongful termination

CLEARWATER — It was an attractive package that helped lure Charles D. Hartwig away from his job at the giant conglomerate, Johnson & Johnson, to become chief information officer at Clearwater-based Lincare, a provider of in-home oxygen and respiratory services.

A base salary of $325,000 a year. A $50,000 signing bonus. An annual bonus of up to $130,000. And Lincare agreed to pay all his expenses to move his family from their New Jersey home.

In November 2015 Hartwig signed Lincare's offer letter and bought a $1.5 million home in Largo.

Five months later, Hartwig said, Lincare summarily fired him.

Hartwig earlier this month filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Lincare, saying the company cooked up a bogus reason to fire him — the suit does not say what this was — and failed to pay all his relocation expenses. And his $50,000 bonus, documents filed with the suit show, must be repaid if he is fired for cause within a year of his hiring.

The lawsuit said that Lincare, which declined comment, started recruiting Hartwig in October 2015 and offered him a "robust" relocation package, which included the payment of moving expenses within two years of his hiring. That was important to Hartwig, the suit said, because one of his children would remain in New Jersey to finish high school "prior to (Hartwig) moving his family and household to Pinellas County."

Hartwig suggested in his lawsuit that Lincare hired him, in part, to get his expertise to help the company in its acquisition of American HomePatient, a deal that was completed in February 2016.

Hartwig said in his suit that he received positive evaluations of his work during his short time with Lincare and said he was told by management that "Everyone enjoys working with you."

The suit said, "Hartwig received no substantially or even marginally negative performance review or criticism during the duration of his employment."

But once Lincare milked him of his "specialized knowledge," the lawsuit said, the company fired him in a termination his lawyers described as "intentionally manufactured."

Hartwig's attorneys said he would not comment for this story.

Hartwig's lawsuit comes after the former acquisitions chief of Lincare sued the company in February alleging it refused to pay her a $1 million fee owed for work on several mergers she shepherded. The acquisitions chief, Sharon D. Ford, said in her suit that Lincare then fired her when she went to her boss to ask for the cash.

Lincare was purchased in 2012 by Linde AG, a German conglomerate that specializes in industrial and medical gases, including oxygen, in a $4.6 billion deal.

Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] Follow @Times_Levesque.

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