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Ex-president’s suit settled

Ex-president’s suit settled

By Thomas Gnau, Journal Business Writer, E-mail:

AK Steel Corp. has settled with its former president in his lawsuit seeking more than $6 million in retirement and severance benefits.

“I had been with that company since 1989, and I loved AK Steel,” John Hritz said Wednesday when reached at his Mason-area home. “It’s a great company, and I wish them all the best in the future.”

Hritz had kind words for James Wainscott, the man who replaced him as president, and also replaced Richard Wardrop as chief executive, following the resignations of both last September.

“He was my friend,” Hritz said of Wainscott. “He is my friend. He is going to do an admirable job.”

“Absolutely,” said Robert Pitcairn, Hritz’s Cincinnati attorney, confirming the settlement. U.S. District Judge Herman Weber dismissed the suit March 2.

Neither Hritz nor Pitcairn would talk about settlement terms. But in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission this week, AK said the settlement “involves an agreed-upon payment of an amount less than was claimed by Mr. Hritz.”

Meanwhile, AK also said in its SEC statement that Wardrop has submitted an arbitration demand for cash severance benefits of about of $10 million and other cash benefits for about $40 million. No hearing date has been set for his claims, which AK is contesting, the company said. Wardrop, a Warren County resident, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“We’re happy that the parties were able to resolve their differences,” Pitcairn said.

“I think we’re satisfied with the settlement,” Hritz said.

Said Alan McCoy, AK’s vice president of government and public relations, “We are pleased that we have reached a settlement with Mr. Hritz.”

Hritz, then 49, and Wardrop abruptly resigned Sept. 18 at the request of AK’s board of directors. Hritz joined AK as counsel in 1989, rising to vice president, employee relations in 1996, senior vice president in 1998 and executive vice president and general counsel in 1999.

When Hritz was named president in January 2003, he was regarded as perhaps Wardrop’s heir apparent in leading the company.

“His experience in the steel industry has literally spanned from the shop floor to the executive offices,” Wardrop said of Hritz last year.

In December, Hritz filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, contending that AK should have paid him $6,141,247 by Oct. 18.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last year, AK said Hritz could receive as much as $11.3 million in severance and retirement benefits, with his severance as high as $2.4 million and a retirement payout as high as $8.9 million.

In the same document, AK said Wardrop could get as much as $51.7 million in severance and retirement payouts.

But the company, reporting financial losses in eight of the last nine quarters, including $560 million in 2003, last year said it was suspending the bulk of those payments while it explored ways to possibly restructure or cut those payments.

Published 03.11.04
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