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When Martin Posner was hired in 1988 by his uncle — financier and one-time corporate raider Victor Posner — he says the elder Posner promised him a “key executive position,” a guaranteed salary and a job for life. Instead, Martin Posner ended up working in the mailroom, where he spent 10 years before being fired, as he claims, for no apparent reason. Today, the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami will be asked if Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Tobin was correct in November 2000 when he granted Victor Posner’s motion for summary judgment in a breach of contract suit brought by his nephew. Tobin agreed with attorneys for the elder Posner who argued that under Florida law, employment contracts for an indefinite period of time, including contracts for lifetime employment, can be terminated at the will of either party. He did not go along with Martin Posner’s position that because he gave up a good job with good pay, his uncle somehow owed him. Martin Posner’s saga began in 1988 when he claims that Philip Smalley, senior vice president of human resources at Miami-based DWG Corp., a publicly held company that Victor Posner once controlled, approached him about a job. In 1993, a federal judge in Cleveland ordered Victor Posner to divest himself of DWG for securities violations. At the time of the job offer, the younger Posner was president of Masury Steel Servicenter, a subsidiary of Sharon Steel, an Ohio company also controlled by his uncle, which had filed for bankruptcy. He says that was when his uncle made him a job offer he couldn’t refuse. “Martin had developed a relationship with the trustee in bankruptcy and [had] the inside track to purchase [the company] out of bankruptcy,” argues Martin Posner’s attorney, Philippe Lieberman, a partner at Frankel & Lieberman in Miami. But Victor Posner’s attorney, Milton M. Ferrell Jr., a partner with Ferrell Schultz Carter Zumpano & Fertel in Miami, says there was never any proof that an offer was on the table and even if there was, there was no evidence he had the financial resources to buy it. Regardless, Martin Posner was hesitant to uproot his family from Ohio and move to Florida. He claims he was persuaded to leave when his uncle promised him that he would “never earn or make anything less than his initial new salary” of $125,000. He also would have a job for life. Best known for aggressively building, and then losing, a $1 billion business empire that included Sharon Steel, Arby’s and Royal Crown Cola, Victor Posner is no stranger to bizarre family feuds. Now in his 80s, he has fought off other family members — including his son Steven — who have laid claim to his fortune and who have accused him of plundering his own companies. “I wonder, if Victor had not been a wealthy man, if such a claim would be made,” said Ferrell. Martin Posner’s suit, says Ferrell, is made even more bizarre by the fact that he claims he was hired to be a CEO, yet spent 10 years in the mailroom, “and then he was shocked that his lifetime contract wasn’t being honored!” Ferrell said. Not so strange at all, argues Lieberman. “You need to understand this was Victor Posner. He needed [Martin] as a trusted confidant working in the mailroom,” Lieberman said. “Even if he was mailroom clerk, he deserves the same protection under the law. You can’t just defraud low-level people.” Lieberman plans to argue that several Florida appellate courts have ruled that an oral promise to employ someone for life is enforceable. In addition, he plans to argue that at the time of his dismissal Martin Posner had “fully performed his obligations” and at the very least should be paid bonuses he claims he was owed. Ferrell sees an empty argument. “Martin’s legal position is based upon stale memories and self-serving allegations of his entitlement to such a windfall,” says Ferrell in his brief.

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