(Bloomberg) — Telecom executive Joe Natale was at the center of an epic rift in the billionaire Rogers family two years ago. He lost that battle, but he’s still fighting them.
Natale has filed suit against Rogers Communications Inc., alleging the Canadian company that fired him as chief executive officer in 2021 owes him more than C$24 million ($18 million) — and that a member of the Rogers family used a video involving Succession actor Brian Cox to harm his reputation.
Rogers, in turn, says it fired Natale for cause and that an investigation found “serious misconduct during his time as CEO,” according to a statement from spokesperson Sarah Schmidt. The Toronto-based company plans to file a countersuit, she said.
The legal fight between Natale and the company stems from a dispute that erupted in 2021 among members of the Rogers clan, which controls Canada’s largest wireless and cable provider. It exposed fissures within one of the country’s wealthiest families, which also owns television and radio stations, Canada’s only Major League Baseball team and a major stake in Toronto’s pro hockey and basketball clubs.
Natale was in charge when Rogers Communications made a C$20 billion offer to acquire rival Shaw Communications Inc. in March 2021, but months later Chairman Edward Rogers soured on the CEO and made a play to get rid of him. Edward’s mother, Loretta Rogers, and two of his sisters, Melinda Rogers-Hixon and Martha Rogers, fought back on Natale’s behalf, in alliance with several other board members.
Edward Rogers sued to establish control over the board and dump five independent directors. He won in November 2021, and Natale was gone less than two weeks later.
Soon after, Cox appeared in a video on Cameo, a website that sells personalized messages from celebrities, with a message for Edward. “Congratulations on your real-life Succession at Rogers Communications,” Cox said, before using a four-letter profanity in reference to Natale’s firing.
“Edward Rogers and/or Suzanne Rogers created and distributed the viral video for the purpose of belittling and disparaging Natale publicly and tarnishing his reputation,” Natale claims in court documents. Suzanne Rogers is Edward’s wife. Cox is not a party to the lawsuit.
Natale, 59, said in the court filing that he’s entitled to a C$4 million payment as a closing bonus for the Shaw deal, which was completed in April, plus C$20 million under an “advisory agreement” signed shortly before he was terminated and other compensation.
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Compensation changes made during his final weeks as CEO may prove key to Rogers’ defense of the lawsuit. “Before his departure, he awarded himself excessive compensation without proper board approval,” Schmidt said on behalf of the company.
“Mr. Natale was aware of the investigation and given an opportunity to respond. He understood the implications of its findings and the lawsuit is an attempt to get ahead of the investigation,” she said.
Bill Walker, a spokesperson for Natale, said via email: “It is unfortunate that Rogers will not honor its commitments made to Mr. Natale. His employment agreement, put in place by the board of directors at the time was clearly articulated, duly executed and designed to ensure continuity during the Shaw merger. We are confident that the courts will share this view.”
Natale was replaced as CEO by Tony Staffieri, who was Rogers’ longtime chief financial officer before Natale and the board ousted him in September 2021, in the midst of the family quarrel over leadership.
(Adds Natale’s age, additional information from Rogers statement, context on new CEO)