Jeffrey Gundlach, who was fired from TCW Group Inc. and started his own firm, won a $66.7 million jury award against his former employer for unpaid wages.
A Los Angeles jury today awarded the money to Gundlach and three of his colleagues, while also finding that he breached his fiduciary duty to TCW and misappropriated its trade secrets. The jury awarded no damages on the breach claim. A judge will determine damages on the trade secret claim.
TCW, the Los Angeles-based unit of Societe Generale SA, sued Gundlach, 51, in January 2010, after more than half of its fixed-income professionals joined DoubleLine Capital LP, the asset-management firm Gundlach started within weeks after TCW fired him. TCW sought as much as $566 million in damages.
The jury found that Gundlach and DoubleLine didn’t act willfully and maliciously in misappropriating trade secrets.
Gundlach, who had worked at TCW for 25 years and was named Morningstar’s Fixed Income Manager of the Year in 2006, countersued, saying TCW fired him to avoid having to pay management and performance fees for the distressed-asset funds his group managed and that went “through the roof.” Gundlach sought about $500 million.
The jury heard more than six weeks of testimony as the two sides provided conflicting views of Gundlach’s falling out with TCW Chief Executive Officer Marc Stern in 2009, which ended with Stern’s buying Metropolitan West Asset Management LLC to run TCW’s fixed-income group and firing Gundlach in December 2009.
Stern testified that he became suspicious of Gundlach after a series of September 2009 meetings and instructed TCW’s in- house lawyer to start monitoring the e-mail of Gundlach and others in his group. The investigation showed Gundlach’s people were downloading TCW’s proprietary information and looking for office space, Stern said.
Gundlach denied that DoubleLine used any of TCW’s proprietary software systems and data.
DoubleLine’s lawyers argued that Stern started looking to replace Gundlach as early as June 2009, about the time Stern returned to active management. Gundlach and other senior managers at TCW had opposed Stern’s return out of retirement and wanted the firm to be run by a management committee instead.
Gundlach had negotiated for him and his group to receive 60 percent of the performance fees for the distressed-asset funds he set up in 2007 and 2008. The funds invested in mortgage- backed securities that were downgraded and dropped in value with the collapse of the U.S. housing market.
As the funds performed better than expected, Paris-based Societe Generale and TCW wanted to replace Gundlach with a less expensive asset manager, DoubleLine’s lawyers said. TCW argued that Gundlach wasn’t entitled to management and performance fees from the funds after his firing.
The case is Trust Co. of the West v. Gundlach, BC429385, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (Los Angeles).