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JM Family Enterprises of South Florida has made Fortune Magazine’s list of the country’s 100 best employers for four years running. Company CEO and board chairman Patricia Moran boasts about company policies and philanthropic activities that help children and shore up families. But one former employee says the benevolence ended — and Big Brother oversight began — when he married into the estimated $6.6 billion family enterprise headed by his mother-in-law. Michael J. Coyle worked as a purchasing agent for JM Family, a 3,000-employee behemoth near Fort Lauderdale that operates the world’s largest privately owned Toyota distributorship, an insurance firm, the country’s top-selling Lexus dealership and a wide range of other businesses. But he says when he separated from wife Christine B. Coyle around 1996, Patricia Moran’s daughter, the Moran clan and its retainers invaded his personal life and forced him out of his job in August 2000. JM founder James M. Moran Sr. appointed his daughter Patricia CEO in 1994. “Moran and her daughter used Michael J. Coyle’s JMFE paycheck as a club with which to beat him into submission on such issues as access to his two children,” states the lawsuit Coyle filed Dec. 15 in Broward Circuit Court. Coyle, represented by William Amlong of Fort Lauderdale’s Amlong & Amlong, alleges that the Moran family engaged in tortious interference and conspiracy that damaged his personal and professional life. Coyle’s lawsuit is one of several filed by Amlong against Deerfield Beach-based JM Family on behalf of former employees. These suits portray a company sometimes driven by the whims of family members. Coyle’s relationship with his powerful mother-in-law and former wife also plays a part in two of the other suits. Over a four-year period, Coyle said, various JM managers, executives and security personnel encroached on his personal life with demands that he says were inappropriate. In 1996, for example, JM’s chief of security ordered Coyle to give up his scheduled Christmas vacation with his children, Ashton and Tyler, so his estranged wife and mother-in-law could take the kids. Coyle said he was told at least three times from 1997 to 1999 to allow security officials to accompany him on vacation trips with his children. In February 1998, the security officials demanded that Coyle let them install a global positioning satellite tracking system in his car and an alarm system in his house. Coyle said he refused these demands. He was punished for his refusal later that month when he was denied a merit pay raise, despite a good performance evaluation, because he was “not cooperating with security,” according to the suit. He says company officials also went into his credit union account — without his consent or a court order– to withdraw money to cover medical care for his children. Ellen M. Leibovitch, a partner at Miami’s Adorno & Zeder who is representing the defendants, says Coyle quit of his own volition in August of last year. Coyle says he was forced out. In his suit, he claims company officials tied child support payments he owed to Christine to a severance payment proposal. They also threatened him with incarceration if he rejected the proposal, according to the lawsuit. Assistants to Patricia Moran, a twice-divorced mother of three, said she and her daughter Christine were unavailable for comment. They directed all inquiries to Taylor Ward, deputy general counsel for JM Family Enterprises Inc. “The company feels that the allegations are frivolous,” Ward said. “We look forward to our day in court.” Christine B. Coyle, Patricia Moran and JM Family are represented by Leibovitch and Henry N. Adorno, partners at Miami’s Adorno & Zeder, and of counsel attorneys Daniel F. Katz and Stephen D. Andrews of Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C. In a written answer to Coyle’s lawsuit filed Jan. 23, the JM Family attorneys denied all his allegations. “[Coyle] is trying to create a lawsuit where none exists under Florida law,” Leibovitch says. JM’s attorneys have also filed a motion to dismiss, citing legal defects with Coyle’s lawsuit. Leibovitch says she thinks Coyle’s claim of tortious interference by his employer is not actionable and “is not going to sustain a cause under Florida law.” She also says the charge of interference with Michael Coyle’s child custody rights, for example, is a matter for the Palm Beach Circuit Court, which heard the Coyle divorce case. A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for March 14 before Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning. Amlong previously filed suits in Broward County against JM Family Enterprises on behalf of at least three other ex-employees of the company. Representing JM Family in both cases is attorney James Bramnick of Miami’s Muller Mintz Kornreich Caldwell Casey Crosland & Bramnick. Those employment discrimination suits alleged wrongful dismissal or denial of a promotion based on race, sex, religion, or marital status, or based on tortious interference. In one, Tami Wilson-Harvey, who served as special projects director, claims she was fired after a conflict with Christine Coyle, who then worked at the company as a graphics designer. She is currently creative services manager. In response to Wilson-Harvey’s lawsuit, JM Family lawyers said in court papers she was fired “after having been given repeated warnings about her inability to maintain confidential information and her lack of discretion.” In another suit, two former employees claim they were punished for inviting Michael Coyle to their wedding. The suit referred to the “multigenerational intrigues” of James M. Moran’s descendants, calling them “bizarre.” “You represent one person, you get others from the same place,” Amlong says in explaining why he’s handling so many suits against JM Family.

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