Willkie Wins $44M Verdict on Behalf of Former Spirit CEO Larry Lawson

October 20, 2021

The Court awarded Willkie client Larry Lawson the full amount of the damages claimed, including pre-judgment interest at the statutory rate of 10%.

On October 19, following an in-person multi-week trial in federal district court in Wichita, Kansas, Willkie won a $44.7 million verdict in the case of Lawson v Spirit Aerospace Systems, Inc. in favor of Larry Lawson, the former CEO of AeroSystems. In a 46-page decision, District Judge Eric F. Melgren awarded Willkie’s client the full amount of the damages claimed, including pre-judgment interest at the statutory rate of 10%.

Mr. Lawson, former Spirit CEO who turned the company around during his tenure, sued Spirit in 2018 for wrongfully withholding his contractual compensation after his retirement from the company. Spirit claimed that Mr. Lawson violated a non-compete provision in his retirement agreement by serving as a consultant to Elliott Associates and participating in a proxy fight against Arconic Corp., which company Spirit claimed was its competitor.

The two-week trial took place in June 2021 in federal district court in Wichita, Kansas. Joseph Baio was lead trial counsel, conducted the opening, closing, and other substantive motions, and conducted the direct examination of Mr. Lawson and the cross-examination of Spirit’s principal witness whom the court found lacked credibility. James Dugan handled the direct and cross-examinations of the experts on both sides and the cross-examination of Spirit’s CEO. Senior associates Ravi Chanderraj and Meryl Governski also handled evidentiary motions and witness cross-examinations.

In his decision, Judge Melgren found that Mr. Lawson was credible throughout his testimony, while the contract interpretation offered by Spirit’s principal witness “finds no purchase in the language of the Agreement itself, in common understandings of the language in the Agreement, or in generally accepted economics.” The Court rejected Spirit’s affirmative defense, holding that Spirit failed to demonstrate that Arconic was its competitor and, in any event, failed to prove that Lawson performed any services for Arconic during the applicable period.

Mr. Lawson was awarded the full amount of the damages claimed, including pre-judgment interest.

The Willkie team was led by senior counsel Joseph Baio and partner James Dugan. The team also included associates Meryl Governski, Ravi Chanderraj, M. Annie Houghton-Larsen and John Catalanotto; and law clerks Anna Occhipinti and Michele St. Julien.