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FCA's U.S. sales chief sues company for wrongful retaliation

Alleges FCA shorted him nearly $1.8M for cooperating with investigators

Some fresh controversy is brewing at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles as The Detroit News reports that the head of U.S. sales has filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the company..

Reid Bigland, who's also in charge of the Ram truck brand, alleges that FCA made him a scapegoat for wrongful sales inflation practices and fixing vehicle sales statistics, which are currently under investigation by federal agents.

Bigland claims that FCA executives punished him for cooperating with the federal investigators in the case by cutting his pay by more than 90 percent, according to the lawsuit he filed. The plan apparently was to use the money saved to pay for fines following any settlements made with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

So far, the lawsuit alleges that FCA cost Bigland over $1.8 million in income.

"They had the largest growth in retail sales in 17 years last year and refuses to pay him," Deborah Gordon, Bigland's lawyer in the case, said to The Detroit News. "Why is that? Because he participated in the SEC investigation and they don't like what he said."

Bigland claims he just cooperated with the SEC investigation by testifying about FCA's sales reporting, from the time he took the position to the period prior to being appointed the company's U.S. sales chief.

"In late 2018, presumably as a way to wrap up their investigation with some result, the SEC suggested to plaintiff that he admit to some wrongdoing as to defendants' monthly sales reporting," Gordon further said in a statement as part of the lawsuit. "The SEC also suggested a resolution involving some penalty to FCA. Because (Bigland) had not engaged in any wrongdoing, and there was no wrongdoing, he declined to do so."

However, exacerbating the issue is the fact that Bigland reportedly sold his shares in the company last year, prompting FCA to act against him even more.

FCA came under fire recently by federal agents in at least two separate investigations, potentially exposing conspiracy and corruption between company executives and private entities. The investigations are being led independently by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI. So far, eight convictions were reportedly secured, with one including former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Vice President Alphons Iacobelli, as one of the defendants. Iacobelli was one of the former top labor-relations executives for the automaker.

The investigations also date back as far as February of 2016 after two Illinois-based Fiat Chrysler dealerships sued the automaker for civil racketeering, accusing the corporation of offering dealerships money under the table to report unsold vehicles as sold in an effort to buff up statistics. However, the judge for the case dismissed the lawsuit claims. A probe began in July 2016 to further investigate the claims. Additionally, the falsified sales reporting was allegedly well-known throughout the company, with the late and former CEO, Sergio Marchionne also being aware of the malpractice.

Amid the controversy, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also reportedly withdrew from its $35 billion merger discussion with Renault. However, the situations appear to be unrelated as the French government sought to grant Renault more time to renegotiate a continuing role with Nissan.

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